Once again, the spotlight is on President Donald Trump, as both his personal lawyer and his one-time campaign chairman await sentencing in federal court for multiple felonies.

Their cases leave a lot of still to be answered questions about their former boss and what he may have known and done. But the cases also expose issues that have little to do directly with Trump.

Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are greedy and venal men who are facing prison sentences for conduct that predates the 2016 election. They spent lavishly and didn’t seem to hide income that exceeded what they reported to the the IRS. Why didn’t they come to the attention of authorities before now?

And if Trump hadn’t become president, putting them under added scrutiny, would they have been able to continue to rip off the government to the tune of a few million dollars every year without interruption?

The answer is almost certainly yes.

There is zero tolerance for little children who are escaping violence by crossing our border without papers but there is a lot of tolerance for already rich men who steal mountains of money through tax evasion, money laundering, bribery and other crimes.


“America is swarming with Manaforts,” writes Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, but you wouldn’t know it by the cases that show up in federal court.

White collar prosecutions, which include offenses like tax, corporate, health care and securities fraud, are on pace to set a record low this year, based on research by TRAC, Syracuse University’s criminal law database, which goes back to the mid 1980s. Prosecutions for public corruption are also on pace to hit a record low.

But this is not something that you can blame on the Trump administration, because this trend has been in place for a long time. No major executive was prosecuted for the monumental fraud in the mortgage market that crashed the financial system and the global economy in 2008, indicating that this kind of negligence is bipartisan.

Pressure by wealthy political donors has limited regulation and caused resources to dry up for some enforcement agencies. Budget cuts at the IRS have caused the number of tax audits to plummet. According to TRAC data, the number of criminal referrals from the tax collection agency is half of what it was just five years ago.

Does cutting back on enforcement make crime go away? That’s certainly not the approach the government takes in any other area.

Maine’s U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank recently penned an op-ed for the Press Herald in which he argued that even if you recognize that drug addiction is a mental illness, you still need to send dealers to prison.

He wrote: “We punish people who commit crimes in fairness to people who do obey the law, to create an incentive for them to obey the law, to incapacitate those found guilty from committing further crimes, and in the hope that they will accept responsibility for their misdeeds and resolve not to violate again.”

If that’s true for a drug dealer, it should also be true for a crooked banker, stock trader or politician whose corruption puts our whole system at risk. White-collar crime is crime, and it shouldn’t be treated any other way.

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