Looks like Paul Manafort will spend more time in prison than he previously planned — potentially a lot more. Late yesterday, a federal judge agreed with the special counsel that Manafort materially violated his plea agreement by not disclosing the full truth on issues that have relevance to Robert Mueller’s probe and to a separate Department of Justice investigation. However, Judge Amy Berman Jackson also ruled that Manafort didn’t lie about contacting Trump administration officials:
After Mr. Manafort agreed in September to cooperate with the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the judge found, he lied about his contacts with a Russian associate during the campaign and after the election. Prosecutors claim that the associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, has ties to Russian intelligence, and have been investigating whether he was involved in Russia’s covert campaign to influence the election results.
The judge also found that Mr. Manafort had lied about a payment that was routed through a pro-Trump political action committee to cover his legal bills, and about information relevant to another undisclosed investigation underway at the Justice Department. …
Judge Jackson decided that prosecutors failed to prove that Mr. Manafort, 69, had deceived them about two other matters: Mr. Kilimnik’s role in a conspiracy with Mr. Manafort to obstruct justice, and whether Mr. Manafort had been in contact with Trump administration officials.
The Washington Post has a little more detail on the distinctions between the claims, which give a better sense of where this fits within the Russian-collusion probe. One point in particular seems curious:
Manafort’s lies, the judge found, included “his interactions and communications with [Konstantin] Kilimnik,” a longtime aide whom the FBI assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District said Manafort also lied to the special counsel, the FBI and the grand jury about a payment from a company to a law firm — which he previously characterized as a loan repayment — and made false statements that were material to another Justice Department investigation whose focus has not been described in public filings in Manafort’s case. …
In her order, the judge agreed with Manafort’s defense and said the government had failed to show he lied when he denied having ongoing contact with Trump administration officials since they took office in January 2017 and failed to show he lied about Kilimnik’s role in the obstruction-of-justice conspiracy over witness tampering in which Kilimnik was accused and Manafort pleaded guilty.
No one in the White House would be dumb enough to keep in contact with Manafort after he became a target of the investigation, would they? Would they? The FBI’s interest in Manafort became publicly known in October 2016, even before the election. By the week of the inauguration, six federal agencies were investigating Russian interference and potential links to the Trump campaign — and given Manafort’s work history, he had to be at least a point of interest.
That alone should have made Manafort toxic and untouchable. The Trump team may not have known about the Department of Justice’s long interest in Manafort (dating back to at least 2014) until after they took office, although it seems at least possible that the DoJ may have warned Trump about it during the campaign. If the White House and Trump were keeping in contact with Manafort, it would certainly look suspicious — and perhaps grounds for a charge of obstruction of justice.
That’s a big if, of course. Judge Jackson ruled that Mueller failed to prove that Manafort lied about the issue, but neither the Post nor the NYT describe what the lie was. Did Manafort claim to have maintained contacts with Trump’s team when he didn’t? Or did he claim that no contacts took place when in fact they did?
Either way, both Mueller and Jackson have made Manafort less valuable. If he can’t even keep from lying when he cuts a deal, and if both the prosecutor and a federal judge make that conclusion public, Manafort’s testimony becomes very impeachable. Whatever Mueller got from Manafort isn’t going to do him much good unless Mueller can find independent and direct corroboration, and the same holds true for whatever the DoJ is presently investigating on its own.
That makes this a mixed bag for prosecutors, but it’s nothing but a hard defeat for the defense. Jackson’s ruling means that Manafort can’t expect a lenient sentence, or even necessarily concurrent sentences. Jackson had already declared that she would consider a prosecution request for consecutive sentences, a decision she will have to reach a month from now in Manafort’s sentencing hearing. Rather than serve seven to ten years on concurrent sentences with parole a possibility in five or so years, Manafort might have to wait 17 years before getting a chance to leave federal custody if the two sentences get imposed consecutively.
Manafort must have had a powerful incentive to lie. Or a self-destructive streak a mile long.