Many people have compared the way Robert Mueller is handling the special investigation to the way organized crime cases are traditionally handled. Ken Dilanian said it on MSNBC back in February 2018, and today, Business Insider took a closer look.
Organized crime is familiar territory for Mueller. In the 1990s, while Mueller was working as a United States assistant attorney general, he oversaw the prosecution of Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. The hallmark of complex organized crime cases is that prosecutors start with the minor members of the organization and work their way up the ladder, convincing the minions that it’s in their best interest to turn on their immediate superiors as they go.
That certainly seems to fit the case here. The five guilty pleas in the Mueller investigation started with a low-level foreign policy aide, George Papadopoulos. Next Mueller flipped Michael Flynn, who also acted as a campaign adviser before serving a very short time as national security adviser. Next, he focused on a pair of Trump operatives, the deputy chairman and chairman of the Trump campaign, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort. Gates cooperated and Manafort did not, but Gates’ testimony gave Mueller enough dirt on Manafort to convict him on eight counts of financial fraud. The next domino to fall was President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen; each step was closer to the president, and with Cohen implicating the president in campaign finance fraud, there’s little doubt the president was at least involved in that activity.
After Cohen flipped and Manafort was found guilty — which happened on the same day — Manafort took some time to reconsider whether he wanted to cooperate with Mueller, as he still had significant legal hurdles to clear before he would begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He decided to cooperate, opening up another possible path up the chain to the president. Slowly, Mueller’s investigation is closing in on the leader of the organization, just as it did when he took down Gotti.
“The higher you go, the more insulated those people are,” said Elie Honig, known for prosecuting more than 100 people in relation to the Sicilian Mafia. “So the best way to penetrate that closed inner circle is by flipping people, and flipping them up.”
There are some differences between this and a standard organized crime case, though, according to the Business Insider article, namely that organized crime generally does not have a paper trail and the steps up the ladder are much more obfuscated. Organized crime cases rely heavily on personal testimony because the money trail is purposefully hidden, but with this case being related to the government, there are hundreds of thousands of pages and terabytes of data that have been handed over to the special prosecutor’s team, making that part of the case feel more like white collar crime.