Hoo boy: Manafort agrees to cooperate with Mueller as part of plea deal

This tweet suddenly feels very old.


“Brave” Sir Robin has run away:

In court Friday morning, prosecutors revealed that Manafort had completed a successful meeting with investigators in which he offered them information they considered valuable. They did not specify what information he shared or if it was relevant to their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissman told the court Manafort’s “proffer session and cooperation … led us to today.”

Prosecutors, who made a point of noting the activity occurred “at least through 2016,” used bank records and other documents to show what they say Manafort did to hide evidence of his work for Ukrainian politicians, hide millions in proceeds in offshore accounts, and then spend the money lavishly on clothing, luxury items, homes and cars.

POTUS made a big show of praising Manafort’s perseverance for refusing to cooperate in order to draw a contrast with Michael Cohen. As it turns out, Manafort’s the one who went and chatted with Mueller, not Cohen. Remember, there was no formal cooperation in Cohen’s case, although he did implicate Trump by pleading guilty to a campaign finance violation in the Stormy payoff. Manafort was the bigger “rat” in the end!

So there you go. With Manafort flipping, there’s no point now in playing out the string to the inevitable impeachment hearings. POTUS might as well rev up the Resignationmobile and ride off into the sunset.

But wait:

He’s not ratting out Trump! He’s ratting out other people, presumably. He might know something relevant about his old consulting partner, Roger Stone. Or, more likely, he’s whispering to Team Mueller about Vin Weber and Tony Podesta, both of whom have been on the special counsel’s radar for months regarding work they did for Manafort in his Ukraine activities. A lot of dominoes might be about to tumble that have nothing to do with Trump 2016.

In fact, says former federal prosecutor Ken White, there’s evidence in the documents filed in court today by Mueller’s team that Manafort didn’t give them anything about POTUS or collusion:

If he had rolled over on Trump or on Don Jr and Jared Kushner (remember, he was present with them during the meeting with the Russian lawyer in 2016), some of those specifics would have been incorporated into today’s plea so that Manafort couldn’t turn around and try to deny it later. Trump is in the clear!

But wait:


Manafort was a resident of Trump Tower. He might not have given Mueller anything on the Trump campaign but did he give them anything about his dealings with Trump before the campaign? If he hasn’t, might he soon choose to do so? His plea agreement requires him to cooperate on “any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant.” Although White’s point of wanting to “lock in” Manafort by including specifics in his plea is well taken, I wonder if Mueller might view a case involving the president as so sensitive that he would deliberately omit anything Manafort’s told them about Trump, whether campaign-related or not, from a public document. He doesn’t want to show his cards on collusion, after all. And he doesn’t (or shouldn’t) want to suggest that the president’s guilty of something until he’s confident he has evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The political consequences of a criminal insinuation would be immense. Trump’s not your average everyday possible suspect.

And now, a mystery. Why didn’t Manafort continue to refuse cooperation and hold out for a presidential pardon? If the answer is “He concluded that Trump wasn’t going to do it” then kindly explain why he thought that. As of a few weeks ago, all indications were to the contrary:

President Donald Trump’s lawyers and a cadre of informal White House advisers claim they’ve convinced him not to pardon Paul Manafort — but White House officials expect the president to do it anyway.

The president’s characterization of his former campaign chairman as a victim and “brave man” is being read by aides as a signal that Trump wants to use his unilateral authority to issue pardons to absolve Manafort, according to eight current and former administration officials and outside advisers.

“Trump is setting it up. He’s referring to the investigation as a ‘witch hunt’ and saying this never would have happened to an aide to Hillary Clinton,” said one former campaign official.

*If* it’s true that Manafort ends up not giving Mueller anything on Trump then maybe the pardon is still on the table. But at a bare minimum, today’s deal made POTUS look bad for praising Manafort in the past for refusing to cooperate. And needless to say, any information he provides that implicates Trump or a Trump family member in wrongdoing will wreck his chances of a pardon altogether. Even stranger, Manafort’s 69 years old, is staring at a sentence of anywhere from seven to 80 years for the crimes he was convicted of in Virginia, and is now looking at 10 years as part of today’s plea deal. Odds are quite good that, absent a pardon, he’ll die in prison even if his sentence is relatively lenient. In which case, why not play for a pardon? Refuse cooperation at every turn, denounce Mueller for his “witch hunt,” do everything you can to further ingratiate yourself to POTUS and pray nightly for clemency.

All I can think is that the plea deal allowed his family to keep more of his assets than they would have if he’d proceeded to trial and lost; he may have made a deal to make sure his wife and kids remain comfortable as they age, even if he’s behind bars. It’s worth noting, though, that the plea agreement requires him to forfeit a lot of money — $46 million in assets, which is more than twice as much as what the entire Russiagate investigation has cost to date. Essentially, Manafort picked up the entire DOJ tab for Mueller’s probe. Exit quotation via Benjy Sarlin: “Mueller recouping the costs of the probe by getting Manafort to give up assets is kind of like Trump’s plan to invade Iraq and take it’s oil.”