One by one, the guilty pleas are coming. One by one, former associates or Trump campaign team members are rolling over in some fashion, willing to make a deal, in order to save their own skin.
Overall, it appears that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has been moving along successfully. There have been no major leaks and no matter how President Trump rages and threatens, he’s not shaking Mueller.
Today’s news concerns former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to a number of charges, and from what information is available, it sounds as if part of that plea deal involves working with Mueller’s team.
The president’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was convicted last month on a range of felony charges by a jury in Virginia, has agreed to cooperate with investigators examining possible links between the president’s 2016 campaign and the Kremlin ahead of a planned trial in Washington, D.C., on a host of other charges.
Sol Wisenberg, deputy to Kenneth Starr during the 1990s Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton, said that in the previous pleas that Mueller has obtained from top Trump associates, including former national security advisor Michael Flynn, there were few grounds on which to base a conspiracy case. With Manafort’s cooperation, he said, that could change.
“Mueller sees Manafort as a key in that regard, or a final key,” Wisenberg said.
So is Manafort the “big fish”?
That depends on what your definition of “big fish” is. Still, there are several things that make Manafort of particular interest.
To begin with, just his entrance into the Trump circle.
Manafort served the president as his campaign manager during an important time in the race, over the summer of 2016, including during the Republican National Convention.
A former consultant to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, Manafort joined the president’s campaign as its top strategist for no salary at a time when he was facing acute financial distress.
So let that settle for a bit: He took the job as campaign chairman, free of charge, when he was in desperate need of finances.
Does. Not. Compute.
And for those that remember the travesty that went on at the 2016 RNC Convention in Cleveland, as far as blocking the voices of anti-Trump delegates, that was by the orchestration of Paul Manafort and then-RNC Chairman (later to be Trump’s short-lived White House chief of staff) Reince Priebus.
He was later forced to step down, when news of payments in the millions from Ukrainian politicians surfaced.
Manafort was one of the individuals present in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, a Kremlin-connected attorney, and several Russian officials.
The meeting came about after an associate reached out to Trump Jr. and suggested the Russian government wanted to help Trump’s campaign by providing “dirt” on his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Rather than go to authorities to report that a hostile foreign government had reached out to him with offers to help the campaign, Trump Jr. readily agreed to the meeting.
What’s more, Manafort kept notes of the meeting, so it’s likely he has things that Mueller wants to hear.
In May, a federal judge told Mueller’s prosecutors that “what you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”
Four months later, Mueller has obtained a cooperation agreement that experts think could may indeed mean trouble for Trump.
Joe Moreno, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner in Cadwalader’s white collar defense and investigations group, said that the agreement to cooperate “could have serious implications for the president.”
Moreno said the agreement means that the special counsel believes “Paul Manafort still had some value with respect to Mueller’s mandate, which is to investigate coordination between the campaign and the Russian government.”
Several weeks back, when former Trump attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen was the big news, Trump made comparisons between the two on social media, calling Cohen a “rat,” and praising Manafort for his “loyalty.”
When you talk like that, it makes it sound like there’s something to hide.
So talk of a presidential pardon began to circulate. Would Trump reward Manafort for that “loyalty”?
It’s hard to say, but if the president were to issue a pardon in this case now, there’s no measure of the red flags it would send up, especially given that Trump and his team have tried to put distance between Trump and Manafort, saying his current legal morass has nothing to do with the president.
“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Trump’s attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement. “The reason: the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
Moments later, however, Jay Sekulow, another member of the president’s legal team, issued what he called a “corrected” statement – which omitted the words “and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
It’s an interesting correction.
If you want to know how desperate this might be, just keep a watch on President Trump’s Twitter account.