Paul Manafort just pleaded guilty to two counts and agreed to cooperate with Mueller in exchange for a limited jail term, 6 years of supervised release and forfeitures of properties, his life insurance and a large sum of money. This is huge. I believe it is a turning point for not only for the investigation but for the future of Trump as president.
Manafort’s pleaded guilty to two counts: the first was a conspiracy to defraud the United States and the second count was to obstruction of justice. Manafort faced many other charges but the rest of the counts were dropped. That is typical when a guilty plea agreement is entered into. Manafort is forfeiting properties in Brooklyn, Virginia, the Hamptons and in New York as well as paying a fine and forfeiting a life insurance policy and bank accounts. He is admitting to all of the wrongdoing he was involved in including the additional 10 counts that the jury in Virginia was “hung” on. The guy was a one man crime spree. This was a good deal for the Mueller team and for us, as Americans. The government will reap about $46 million dollars from this deal. That should pay for at least some of the cost of the investigation.
What does Manafort’s cooperation mean for Trump’s potential exposure?
I have written about how many people have claimed that Trump, like the Titanic, would be unsinkable. But given the amount of factual evidence coming that will reveal Trump’s true nature, his statements and actions, I predicted that Trump, like the Titanic would hit the iceberg.
Manafort’s willingness to help Mueller know the truth is that iceberg.
Manafort’s testimony will not be confined to the illegal conduct he engaged in himself or be confined to what he pleaded guilty to. His cooperation means that he needs to cooperate and tell Mueller everything he knows including all of his meetings as the campaign chairman, like the one in Trump Tower when he was Trump’s campaign chairman, his dealings with the Ukranian oligarch who asked him for private briefings about the Trump campaign, and his relationship with Kilminik who has connections to Putin and connections to Russian intelligence as well as anything else that would shed light on what went on in the campaign and after Trump’s election to the extent he knows about it. It will be up to Manafort to prove to the Mueller team that he is telling the truth. If he lies his deal is off. And Mueller will know if he is lying because of the extensive additional evidence his team has amassed.
In addition, this means that given the choice between a pardon from Trump, that Trump was broadly hinting he would give Manafort for not being a “flipper”, Manafort chose instead to cooperate with Mueller. That was the right choice for him. He stands to do better with a sure cooperation deal with Mueller compared to an uncertain pardon from Trump. If he cooperates extensively, his sentence could be reduced. If he is truthful and helpful to Mueller he might get out of jail in time to live some of his remaining life outside of prison.
One of my first concerns when I heard about this cooperation agreement was how Trump could try to obstruct justice with a pardon. Trump is into obstructing justice, and this would be his Hail Mary- a last minute pardon to keep Manafort from spilling the beans on him. Marcy Wheeler, who writes very astute legal-political commentary has weighed in saying that the Manafort cooperation agreement is pardon proof. Her reasoning is compelling and based on information from her own sources close to the investigation: https://www.emptywheel.net/2018/09/14/the-manafort-plea-is-pardon-proof/
The agreement to cooperate was kept totally secret as part of the agreement itself, as a way to prevent an 11th hour pardon from Trump. Many news agencies were reporting that the agreement was coming but no one knew if it included cooperation. On Friday morning, Manafort arrived secretly at the location of the DC Grand Jury. There was an hour and a half delay before the arraignment and guilty plea in court. In that hour and a half, the prosecutor most certainly locked in Manafort’s key testimony before the Grand Jury.
Part of what Mueller needed Manafort to do was to testify under oath so he could “lock in” the testimony before the Grand Jury. What he needed to “lock in” was a conversation allegedly between Trump and Manafort on June 7th in advance of the June 9th Trump Tower meeting. Trump has told close friends (and that information leaked out) that Manafort could implicate him based on what Trump said in that meeting with Manafort on the 7th of June. In that conversation with Manafort, if Trump said that the Russians were offering dirt on Hillary and he, Trump, knew it and approved of it- that locks in the mens rea requirement. That would be huge. I believe it is likely that that is precisely what got locked in this morning.
In addition, the agreement is pardon proof in the sense that the forfeiture is not reversible and some of the dismissed charges could be brought in other states if there is a pardon. What Mueller did, assuming Marcy Wheeler is right, was to remove the incentive for Trump to pardon Manafort. The cat is out of the bag.
You will now hear Trump, Guiliani, and Sarah Sanders go on endlessly saying that what Manafort was guilty of has nothing to do with the president and Manafort was just a coffee boy. It is true but irrelevant that most of the charged criminal activity occurred before Manafort worked as Trump’s campaign chairman. They are simply moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. The ship has hit the iceberg.
Most importantly, we are going to get the truth. Manafort was in the room with Trump when he had many of his meetings. Manafort will be telling Mueller what was said and done by Trump and others in those meetings. We are going to find out if Trump conspired with the Russians based on what Manafort learned. Despite what you hear from Republican talking heads on cable news, there are many indicators that point to a nexus of cooperation between Trump and the Russians.
As the truth comes out, I believe that Trump’s choke-hold over Republicans in Congress, the Republican Party and Fox News is going to be lessened. Many Republicans are going to rue the day they sold their souls to the devil and signed on to be Trump enablers.
We cannot sit back and think everything will turn out just fine, however. Keep working to turn the blue wave into a blue tsunami. Pile on! Get active! This ship must sink. And now we have more reason to believe it will.