Sam Patten Reminds Us Cooperation Deals Are Not Cookie Cutters

One of the last filings of 2018 in the cases I keep track of here was a three line joint motion in Sam Patten’s case, noting that the parties had filed a joint status report under seal. Sam Patten, recall, is the sleazy influence peddler who (like Paul Manafort) was a business partner with alleged GRU operative Konstantin Kilimnik who first proffered information to Mueller’s office on May 22 of last year, but who didn’t plead guilty until August 31. He pled guilty to lying on FARA registration, lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee and withholding documents from them, in part about setting up straw purchasers to let foreigners donate money to Trump’s inauguration. He’s also got ties to Cambridge Analytica, though that did not show up in his plea at all.

So rather than a routine status report — either telling the court that Patten continued to cooperate with Mueller, the DC US Attorney’s Office, and other law enforcement entities with which his deal required him to cooperate — or rather than moving towards sentencing, the government instead filed something under seal.

When asked what this might mean, I’ve deferred any answer, because it could be so many things and there’s so little to go on.

But CNN’s Katelyn Polantz has what (for any straight news outlet — and I mean that as a genre issue, not a competence one) is remarkably good analysis. She points to the timing of Patten’s plea (just before Paul Manafort was set to go to trial on his own FARA crimes, and thus just weeks before Manafort decided to flip) and to Patten’s multi-office cooperation obligations to suggest this sealed plea may have to do with Mueller’s case.

Patten agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and other Justice Department actions before Manafort pleaded guilty to criminal charges in September. Manafort had been Mueller’s target for almost a year before his plea deal — and the Mueller team initially charged him with a host of financial crimes and foreign lobbying violations. A jury found Manafort guilty of tax and bank fraud related to his Ukrainian lobbying proceeds, then Manafort flipped and agreed to help prosecutors in September to avoid a second trial related to his foreign lobbying operation.

Patten was lined up by prosecutors as a person involved in that planned second trial against Manafort.

Typically, in a plea deal such as Patten’s, once prosecutors no longer need his cooperation for an upcoming trial or to put pressure on a criminal target, they would move the case to the sentencing phase. No date has been set yet by the court for Patten’s sentencing, and it’s still not determined when that process would even begin.

What she doesn’t say, but I would add, is that we’ve heard remarkably little about Manafort’s fate since a hearing on December 11 where Manafort’s lawyers pushed to begin adjudicating this month (in advance of his sentencing in the EDVA case) whether they agreed that Manafort had lied to the government while supposedly cooperating, even while saying they were having ongoing discussions with the government about those lies. Judge Amy Berman Jackson set a deadline for next Monday, January 7, for Manafort’s lawyers to file some kind of statement about whether they agree with the government or not. Sure, the holidays happened in the middle of that. But throughout the period before that, we got regular updates from Rudy Giuliani and Manafort’s lawyers making the extent of Manafort’s cooperation clear; we’ve gotten nothing since December 11.

Polantz also notes something most reporters covering the Mueller investigation forget: prosecutors don’t just hold off on sentencing until a cooperating witness testifies (note, the same mob of reporters also falsely suggest that Michael Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller is done, misunderstanding that Mueller will reward Cohen’s cooperation with a sentencing adjustment if it continues). Indeed, the only Mueller cooperating witness who has thus far testified before sentencing has been Rick Gates, and he remains under a cooperation agreement over five months later. Prosecutors also use (and Mueller seems to have especially) cooperating witnesses to pressure other witnesses. Indeed, that seems to be the significance of this passage from the addendum describing Mike Flynn’s cooperation.

Mueller used Flynn to get all the other people — starting with but by no means limited to KT McFarland — who originally lied about the Russian conspiracy to testify, and to do so as witnesses who clarified their testimony rather than sustained a lie and therefore got branded a liar making them less useful as witnesses at trial.

In other words, Polantz seems to suggest that Mueller rolled out Patten’s cooperation agreement just before Manafort’s trial in a bid to get him to flip. That worked. But not well enough to get Manafort to really cooperate.

Which may explain why his current status is such a big secret: because no one wants to give Manafort — or Trump — any hints about his status until Manafort decides what he’s going to do this week.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

47 replies
    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It would seem to be Mueller’s standard operating procedure in this environment, and doesn’t imply any specific concern.

      A pardon for Paulie or anyone else would be one of many possibilities.  So, too, is Trump trying to pardon a group of people in a variation of The ABC Murders scheme – involve many to hide which ones are really of interest.

  1. bmaz says:

    That’s a lot of words to say the government is not done with Patten yet, and the Manafort burp is likely a large reason why.

  2. Mulder says:

    So this status update was not required by the court schedule? It was a tactical move by Mueller to file it to make the point you wrote in the last paragraph?

    And your recent podcast appearance was excellent as always. Good review and some new thoughts, too.

    I confess my favorite part was when the hosts debated whether Mark Whitaker is “Big Dick or Big Dong Toilet Salesman”.

    I pretend to be a serious grownup but I’m largely still in 7th grade.

    • emptywheel says:

      No. It was scheduled. It’s just that normally the status report would include something public.

      • bmaz says:

        Exactly. But if all it really says is effectively “both parties stipulate the time is not right for sentencing because there is ongoing cooperation as to X, Y and Z” then it makes sense to just seal the whole thing.

        pinc – Heh, the burden really is not that high to seal, especially if both parties so agree.

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          Gotcha. Here’s my thinking: they could file something boilerplate and it’d go on the docket, like the Flynn / Papa / Gates status reports, e.g.

          This time they haven’t. Let’s assume that Mueller’s team does things for a reason. If they want to keep Paulie & whoever else guessing about where things stand with Patten, they can drop in some specifics and justify filing it under seal. Other reasons are possible. But it’s not boilerplate.

          • emptywheel says:

            Right: both sides have to agree to seal, but since Patten is cooperating, he has no choice.

            Though it’s unclear whether this is DC or Mueller. And I don’t actually rule out DC having a hand in this. I think any general inauguration investigation would go through DC.

            That said, I agree there’s a reason this is sealed and not just generic, and I find that very interesting. It may be Trump they’re hiding it from. Or GRU/Russia generally.

            • bmaz says:

              But ongoing investigation is the epitome of generic sealing. The court can order sealing on one party’s motion without stipulation from the other, and even over objection from the other.

    • William Bennett says:

      Well said, particularly on the efforts of the Falwell & Graham jrs’ “attempt to ruin a religion” by “preach[ing] to the converted in a way that makes Christianity as unpalatable to non-believers as possible.”

  3. Frank Probst says:

    What options do Manafort’s lawyers have here?  I know a lawyer is supposed to zealously defend their client, but it seems like the issue here is that they probably know whether or not Manafort violated his plea deal, and they really don’t want to come right out and say so.  What are their legal obligations here?

    • Drew says:

      The real question is whether Manafort’s not-exactly-true statements or not-entirely-forthcoming testimony really violated the terms of the deal, which can be far more technical than just whether he told some lies.  What they are faced with is deciding whether it helps or hurts their client to make the argument. Mueller doesn’t HAVE to charge Manafort with the additional crimes he committed while purporting to cooperate, for instance, so there are ways that challenging the Special Counsel’s office could dig a deeper hole. So the attorneys have to consider what the evidence & likelihood of a finding in Manafort’s favor might be.

    • bmaz says:

      It is more nuanced than that. Manafort has not technically “violated his plea deal”. He has failed to follow through with a certain cooperation availability within it. The plea still stands. That is on the client, not the lawyers. Their legal obligation is to continue representing their client zealously as best they can.

  4. Barry says:

    Don’t exactly mean to be Mr. Negative, but… Most comments seem to be based on the unspoken assumption that whatever Mueller seals is hidden from Manafort and Trump, and I assume this is so. But is it? Do we have any information one way or the other as to what degree Whitaker is involving himself in the details of Mueller’s investigation? I imagine Trump didn’t hire him to just sit there and do nothing. And we don’t here Trump bad-mouthing Whitaker (yet). So might that mean he’s actually being helpful in some way. But what way? If, for example, Mueller wants to indict Stone or others closer to Trump, doesn’t Whitaker have the authority to say “No, that’s not justified under your mandate as I read it.”? And if so, isn’t by-the-book Mueller obligated to say nothing other than to describe this interference in his someday report?

  5. Jonathan says:

    Looks like The Hill is engaging in a little distraction here. They are claiming that “exculpatory evidence” will clear Mike Flynn of wrongdoing in the matter of the RT dinner he attended in Moscow.  They make a pretty big deal of the assertion that Flynn properly disclosed his itinerary in advance, and that he actually obtained moderately useful intelligence there, rather than pass important intelligence to Russia.  OTOH, the article also admits, that at least in public, Mueller has not charged Flynn with wrongdoing at this dinner– as opposed to all the things Mueller DID charge. Nonetheless, the reporter starts from the premise that Flynn’s allegedly proper behavior that evening in Moscow, translates into overall innocence for himself — and for other of his associates in the Trump campaign.

    Seems like a stretch at best. Here’s the link.

    Then of course, there’s the $45K speaking fee he accepted for speaking at the RT gala…which seemingly lays waste to The Hill’s case that Flynn was not compromised by attending.  Yes, he accepted $45K from Russia’s equivalent of Voice of America — kompromat in plain sight. I assume it would be fine to accept this money as a private citizen but not if he were on the Trump campaign or angling for public office thereafter.

    • Strawberry Fields says:

      John Solomon always writes these no-collusion and I’ve found the ‘smoking gun’ articles… every week he pretends to trip over a “smoking gun”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Engaging in distraction for the benefit of the establishment is the business model of the Hill and John Solomon.   He is usually relegated to the status of OpEd writer, having abandoned his journalist’s credentials long ago.  His output should really be labeled “Paid Advertisement.”

    • Trip says:

      Here’s a crime he was never charged with, therefore he is innocent of anything or everything else he could be charged with.


      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Political ass kissing of the Pompeo-Whitaker variety, restating the aspirational proposition that in America, one is innocent until proven guilty by a jury of one’s peers.

        People of color, the poor, political activists on the left, foodies, and so on would argue that aspirations are fine, accomplishments are better.

        As for Mr. Whitaker, one thing Ms. Pelosi might do is inquire whether Whitaker is really the “acting” Attorney General.  The DoJ has argued in favor of his qualifications, as any competent bureaucracy would argue in favor of its putative head.  But has the White House actually put it in writing beyond Mr. Trump’s tweet?

        • Trip says:

          Especially since the court said sometimes Trump’s tweets are simply a distraction (paraphrased).

          …The obsequious Mr. Whitaker, selling big dick toilets to men who only require toddlers’ potties.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I disagree with that court ruling.  Mr. Trump’s tweets are official statements by the President.

          Trump would like to have it both ways: statement by tweet, to appease his whims and to avoid his own handlers, but without being held accountable for them should they turn south. It’s what he practiced for five decades as a real estate huckster.

          Putting an end to that kind of cakeism is one thing we’re looking to the Democratic House majority to do.

  6. Trip says:

    FIRST UP … REP. JOHN SARBANES (D-MD.), chair of the party’s Democracy Reform Task Force, is expected to file House Democrats’ first major legislative item — H.R. 1, which they’ve named the “For the People Act,” immediately after being sworn in. The goals include: improving voters’ access to the ballot box, reducing the influence of money and strengthening ethics rules for public servants. Democrats will unveil the package at an 11 a.m. Friday press conference in the Rayburn Room in the Capitol.

  7. Trip says:

    Russian news agency says ‘U.S. spy’ recently arrested in Moscow was caught ‘red-handed’


    09:17, 3 january 2019

    Paul Whelan, the U.S. citizen recently arrested in Moscow on espionage charges, was caught “red-handed,” according to the news agency Rosbalt. A source in Russia’s law enforcement reportedly says Whelan spent years using social media to recruit Russians with access to classified data. Whelan’s lawyer, meanwhile, told the news agency that he expects his client to be released on his own recognizance, when the case comes before a judge…Rosbalt’s source says Federal Security Service officers arrested Whelan at his room in the Metropol Hotel, five minutes after he supposedly accepted a flash drive with a list of all the employees working at a classified security agency. The source claims that Whelan used “highly non-standard methods for intelligence gathering,” registering accounts on social networks popular among Russians. He supposedly started this as far back as a decade ago, broadcasting his interest in Russia and the Russian language. Rosbalt’s source says Whelan sought out Russian Internet users “tracked and selected in advance by American intelligence as individuals who might have access to classified information.”


    The timing is pretty convenient, huh?

  8. Trip says:

    5 Years on, France Extradites Ex-Moscow Official Charged With Embezzling $200M

    On the other hand, his ex is a US citizen, living in the states.

    With Janna Bullock (not extradited), NYC socialite-darling, prior Guggenheim board member and high end house-flipper, you begin to think all of NYC’s prime real estate is financed via ill-gotten gains, then laundered.

  9. P J Evans says:

    And flashdrives are such easy objects to plant on people – it’s pickpocket-type planting. Especially with the smaller ones that you can get now.

    • Trip says:

      Agreed. To be clear, I’m not advocating that the article is necessarily factual. Just posting what is being reported in Russia in re Whelan.

      Of course, it is also possible that he is a spy. It’s not like we don’t have those.

      • bmaz says:

        He would, with his background history, be an unusual choice if really was working as a spy for the US though. On the other hand, Ray Davis kind of proved they don’t always pick the best and the brightest.

        • Trip says:

          Ha, yeah. Although there’s really no way to know if his background in whole or part is contrived. And we have assets like Felix Sater who are clear scumbags of criminality who do just fine working both sides. You never know. However, like I said above, the timing is suspect, to coincide with trying to get Butina back to Russia.

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