It looks like Paul Manafort will be going to jail for a long time for violating his cooperation agreement with Mueller’s team and lying to the FBI and grand jury as well as committing other financial crimes like money laundering and more. Much more. Prosecutors describe him as a man with “a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse.” Manafort faces sentences in federal court in two jurisdictions- Virginia and DC. In DC, Judge Amy Berman has said in court that Manafort didn’t just lie. He lied about something very central, something material that goes to the very heart of the Mueller investigation. Even worse, he made up stories that were pure fabrications. His crafted stories protected Constantin Kilimnik, who, Judge Jackson says, was Manafort’s co-conspirator. The use of the word conspirator is not a word a judge chooses at random. It means there was a conspiracy between this Russian operative and Manafort based on the evidence this Judge has seen in unredacted form.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson commented that Manafort’s lies and invented stories appeared to purposely shield his Russian co-conspirator, Kilimnick from exposure. I think we can be confident that there is an ongoing investigation into that conspiracy hidden behind all those redactions in the charging documents and guilty plea agreements simply because of the extensive nature of the redactions. Mueller’s team is trying to keep something very serious hidden from public view that is likely a continuing investigation.
Manafort also lied to the Special Counsel about the fact that he was a mole for Trump after signing his cooperation agreement with the Special Counsel. Manafort worked to protect Trump. He was the ultimate loyalist. Manafort might have been angling for a pardon by playing the mole, and if Trump gives him a pardon, that could help him a bit, but Manfort will not be a free man. He will face state charges for comparable state crimes arising out of crimes he committed in New York that are being carefully written to avoid double jeopardy laws in the state of New York. State charges would check mate Trump if he is tempted to pardon Manafort. State charges should also land Manafort in a worse jail- Rikkers Island. The federal jails are the Ritz by comparison. Therefore, it is not clear that a presidential pardon would help Manafort in any appreciable way.
It’s also not clear that Trump would want to give Manafort a pardon.
We know Trump by now. Trump only does whatever helps Trump and no one else unless maybe we count his children. No loyalty beyond the clan. What would a pardon for Manafort do for Trump? I don’t see any up side for Trump. It might stir the pot of speculation that Trump is a Russian asset now that Manafort is linked as a conspirator with Kilimnick. This is the opposite of what Trump wants. “No collusion” should be Trump’s middle name by now. Trump is trying to keep the thin veil of plausible deniability intact, like a naked man shielding himself with Saran Wrap.
Trump is more likely to save his pardon power for his family members: Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Ivanka, if they are indicted on federal charges. It would make sense for him to save his pardon power for them since a huge firestorm is sure to follow because Trump will be accused of abusing his power if and when he does this.
At this point it is hard to be so naive as to believe that Trump was not involved and quite happy about whatever Russiagate conspiracy occurred, whether or not there is compelling evidence of a link to him. If there was a Russiagate conspiracy to get him elected, Trump had to have been aware of it and must have approved it for it to go on. There is nothing that went on in that campaign that Trump was not aware of. He exerted his power over everything that happened in that small campaign HQ from inside Trump Tower. It is ridiculous to think otherwise.
If we assume a Russiagate conspiracy existed to help elect Trump that Manafort and Kilimnick were actively engaged in, and Manafort did not jettison his plea agreement because he realizes that a pardon won’t be helpful to him and won’t be forthcoming anyways, then why would he opt for a life sentence with no get out of jail free card?
I have heard some commentators say that maybe Manafort lied because he is simply used to lying as a way of life. That is not convincing to me. This is his entire remaining life at stake. Mueller’s team was demanding only one thing- that he tell them the truth, and if he did that, he would get a reduced sentence and some span of life outside of jail after a shortened prison term.
Yet Manafort throws that away. He blows up his cooperation agreement choosing a life sentence for himself instead.
Why? Why does he do that?
Here is the only answer that makes sense to me given what we currently know: Manafort lied and fabricated stories to tell the Mueller team because if he told the truth it would expose Trump’s connection to Putin and the gangster underworld of the Russian oligarchs that were part of the conspiracy to get him elected president. If Manafort tells the truth he also exposes Kilimnick. That is too dangerous both for himself and his family.
Russians do not take kindly to that kind of exposure. Nothing good happens to people who rat out Putin and his oligarch mobsters. I believe Manafort faced a life sentence or a death sentence. He chose the life sentence. This is speculation, I confess, but it is a logical guess.
We are all living in the middle of a spy story. Some day we will get to read the words behind the blackened redactions in those indictments and guilty pleas and we will understand more about what was being investigated by the Mueller team. We are all waiting for information from the Special Counsel like the play Waiting for Godot, where the two characters endlessly discuss whether Godot is coming or not– on and on for the whole play. Mueller’s report, like Godot, never seems to come even though we hear it will arrive soon.
I think most of us both want and fear the report. We fear it because it might disappoint us. We want it to validate what we think we already know. With or without the report, we already know the truth. Our president is a criminal and a conman. He is compromised. He is Putin’s ally. He is a would-be dictator. He is wrecking our democracy. We do not need Mueller’s report to know this.
What can we do about it? People who live in red and purple states could do a lot. Republican Senators know full well how dangerous Trump is and say so behind closed doors, but they will not act to counter him because they think their constituents support Trump. These Senators believe they need to follow the will of their voters and that if they do not, they will face a primary challenger. They may be right. Notice that Lindsey Graham used to push back against Trump but when he did that his poll numbers with Republicans were in the dumper. It was clear that he could get primaried. Now that he is a Trump sycophant, his approval with Republicans in his state is up to 70%. Instead of defending democracy, instead of teaching his constituents to think differently, Graham has gone to the dark side. Republicans who could be primaried should do their jobs as members of Congress. They were hired to protect the Constitution so they should try to educate their constituents.
Republicans who still support Trump are the biggest problem we have in our country. If they would turn against Trump in even relatively modest numbers, his game would be over. Instead they approve of him no matter what at a rate so high it boggles the mind – of any sane person.
With or without the Mueller report, we already know the truth. There is no need to wait for Godot to tell us what we already know. People in red and purple states to activate to send letters, emails, and call their lawmakers to express their outrage. Republicans especially in purple states have a lot more power than people in blue states to push their Senators to limit Trump and curb his criminal, corrupt behavior and authoritarian ways. With or without the Mueller report we need Republican Senators to stand up for our country. As we get closer to 2020 all of us have to pull together to keep Trump from another term in office and not allow Trump and the Russians to get us to fight with each other on social media- because that is the way Trump will get a second term. Enough is enough.