If the media and Democrats hoped to get a sense where Robert Mueller might be heading from the final required filing in the Paul Manafort case, they came up empty. Mueller ripped the man who briefly served as Donald Trump’s campaign manager as a “bold” career criminal and liar, but never mentions anything in the sentencing recommendation about the core special-counsel mission. In fact, the words “Trump,” “Russia,” “collusion,” and “intelligence” never once appear in the document — at least in the unredacted portion of it.
Politico’s Josh Gerstein noticed it too, although it’s not going to make Manafort any more comfortable. Mueller wants Judge Amy Berman Jackson to give him a sentence of as much as 22 years:
The latest submission from Mueller accuses Manafort of a bold, brazen and wide-ranging series of crimes carried out over decades and continuing while Manafort was managing the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, although prosecutors seemed to avoid mentioning the president directly in their new filing.
“Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law—whether the laws proscribed garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and bank fraud, or more esoteric laws that he nevertheless was intimately familiar with, such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” prosecutors wrote.
“His criminal actions were bold, some of which were committed while under a spotlight due to his work as the campaign chairman and, later, while he was on bail from this Court,” they added.
In fact, Mueller’s team said, “Given the breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity, the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factor.”
Mueller argues that Manafort “presents many aggravating sentencing factors and no warranted mitigating factors,” and the recap of the case against Manafort certainly supports that declaration. The filing accuses Manafort of lying to practically everyone — the FBI, the special counsel office, the grand jury, and even “his own legal counsel.” Manafort has no hard-luck story of childhood to mitigate a potential sentence, or at least Mueller claims, and the need for deterrence is so strong that it requires Manafort to get a prison term that would likely end up being a life sentence.
Mueller, in accordance with court orders, redacted portions of this filing. Much of the redactions appear to apply to issues that took place long before the 2016 Trump campaign. On page 13 and continuing on for several pages, the redactions all relate to Manafort’s work for the Viktor Yanukovych regime in Ukraine. It starts with redactions that shade out information about lobbying efforts on behalf of Ukrainian interests in their 2007 election and again in 2012-14. It also involves apparent lobbying on behalf of the pro-Russian regime in that same time period to get Congress to ignore the detention of Yulia Tymoshenko. These redactions stop on page 21 without ever getting past the 2014 time frame.
The implication from this is that Mueller’s protecting open investigations into activities from years prior to the 2016 election cycle having nothing to do with Trump. We already know that the Department of Justice had spent years trying to track money laundering by the Yanukovych regime, which is how Mueller got a ready-made case against Manafort in the first place. At that time, Manafort was seen as a secondary target, and that may still be the case.
There is, however, one other tantalizing and nearly complete redaction on pages 8-9, which relates to a filing by Manafort’s team regarding potential probation. Their brief response to that submission is entirely redacted. It’s possible that this redaction covers up something to do with Russia, collusion, and Donald Trump — but if Manafort had involvement in such a scheme, it seems more likely that those allegations would have more prominence in this sentencing recommendation than just a response to a probation report.
Bolstering that impression later in the report is the summary of issues Manafort notes that arose during the investigation. On page 21, Mueller cites Manafort’s “false statements to the Department of Justice” in September 2016, but that relates entirely to statements Manafort made about his work in Ukraine. It does mention Konstantin Kilimnik on page 23 without redaction, but again, this appears to relate to Manafort’s attempts to obfuscate his work for the Yanukovych regime:
Kilimnik’s role in witness tampering gets detailed in the procedural history of the case in this filing. That took place in 2016 or later, but this reference appears to be related to the pre-2014 crimes outlined elsewhere. By extension, one might surmise that the witness tampering related to those earlier charges too and not Russia collusion, but that’s not a certainty. At any rate, in neither case does Mueller make reference to Kilimnik’s reported connections to Russian intelligence or the Russia-collusion theory [see second update].
None of this proves that Mueller has come up empty, but without Manafort and his contacts with pro-Russian Ukrainians, the Russia-collusion theory has a big problem with dot connections. For those who had hoped to see evidence for the theory bolstered in Mueller’s final shot at Manafort, this looks like a mini-fizzle. Not that this will cheer up Manafort … nor should it.
Update: My good friend Scott Johnson reports at Power Line that he can’t find any reference to the Russia-collusion theory in the filings either. But Scott found the overarching lesson within it:
The crimes of which Manafort has been convicted have nothing to do with the Trump presidential campaign. There was nevertheless some overlap in his course of conduct with the time he served as campaign chairman. “His criminal actions were bold,” according to the memo, and some “were committed while under a spotlight due to his work as the campaign chairman…”
Despite Manafort’s multifarious criminal activity, he could still be at large if only he had avoided the Trump campaign. The spotlight can be a killer. I see an unedifying lesson here, though it is not the one the Special Counsel wants to teach Manafort.
I suspect that Mueller picked up the dormant Manafort case from the DoJ in order to press Manafort into giving up any potential evidence on Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — and found out that there was none to be had. That doesn’t make Manafort a political prisoner; it does make one wonder why he chose to take a high-profile political position in a campaign (and why Trump hired him for it in the first place). One has to suspect that Manafort was trying to find ways to make himself valuable to the former clients to whom he owed a lot of money. That’s certainly going to pique the curiosity of any prosecutor once a case got opened, but whether that case should have been opened at all is another question entirely.
Update: My initial analysis of Kilimnik was seriously in error; I had missed where Mueller first introduced him in the Procedural History of the filing. I have deleted that paragraph and written another in its place after the screen-shot excerpt.