Pardons and Spooks: The Back Story of Paulie’s Plea

Yesterday, the court released a redacted transcript of the hearing on whether and how badly Paul Manafort violated his plea agreement.

The transcript makes it more clear than it already was that Manafort’s “cooperation” was a bid to avoid trial without helping the government prove that Trump conspired with Russia. Manafort did that by:

  • Inventing a rolling cover story for why the kickback scheme he used to pay himself as campaign chairman didn’t violate campaign finance (and money laundering) laws, including the ones prohibiting the coordination between campaigns and PACs
  • Claiming that while he may have pled guilty to conspiring with someone tied to Russian intelligence, Konstantin Kilimnik, Kilimnik hadn’t really wanted to conspire with him
  • Disclaiming an interest in a Ukraine peace deal (which the transcript appears to suggest he admitted amounted to sanctions relief) even though he showed an interest in it in the thick of the campaign, in December 2016, during the inauguration, a month after the inauguration, and even while facing down this prosecution
  • Accusing Rick Gates of lying about sharing polling data with Kilimnik
  • Changing his testimony regarding the criminal intent behind someone’s efforts — possibly Michael Cohen — to salvage Trump’s candidacy
  • Denying that efforts to reach out to Trump amounted to an ongoing relationship

The changed testimony, which I had previously thought pertained to Steven Calk but which very clearly relates instead to something closer to the campaign (possibly the campaign’s foreknowledge of efforts to kill the Access Hollywood story by using the WikiLeaks dump), is the most fascinating part of the transcript. I hope to return to it after today’s hearing with Matt Whitaker.

That said, the transcript might be most interesting for the way Mueller’s team describes the cooperation generally.

Andrew Weissmann framed the entire discussion by talking about why, just days before Manafort’s second trial, the government entered into a plea deal with him without first having verified the truth of what he proffered. He described two factors that weren’t present in normal circumstances that would lead them to do that. The first was a hope that Manafort could help them collect intelligence on the operation.

One was, there’s enormous interest in what I will call — for lack of a better term — the intelligence that could be gathered from having a cooperating witness in this particular investigation. And that would account for the Government agreeing to have Mr. Manafort cooperate, even though it was after a trial. Because that’s certainly an — not — not — it’s not that that never happens, but it’s more atypical.

The other is redacted, but it seems to be a reference to a pardon.

By the same token, there was an unusual factor — the second unusual factor, which was [1.5 lines redacted] the normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement.

Much later, during the discussion of Manafort ordering Gates to pass on polling data, what appears to be one of the prosecutors even points to why Manafort would lie in hopes of increasing his chances for a pardon.

[redacted] would have, I think, negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon.

I’ve been saying through this entire process that all the normal conclusions one might draw about someone making a plea deal have to be discarded given the way Trump has clearly floated pardons; the lesson applies here, as well as to Jerome Corsi (and probably applied to Michael Cohen before Trump realized he had no tapes of the most damning conversations they had).

It appears the prosecutors agree.

Update: Rereading the transcript while I wait for the Whitaker hearing to resume. Here’s another instance where Weissmann suggests the normal incentives to cooperate weren’t in place, presumably because of a hoped for pardon.

And to take — to go back to the example of Mr. Manafort’s saying to us: Well, that’s not what I said previously. What that showed is that the incentives of the agreement, where there are benefits to be had by cooperating, there are disincentives; because if you’re caught lying, that you can have serious consequences. It told us that those incentives were not working — were not working adequately. So, all of that factored into why we were making this decision.

Update: At the very end of the Matt Whitaker hearing today, TX Congresswoman Veronica Escobar asked the Acting Attorney General a really interesting question about pardons:

Escobar: Did you ever create, direct the creation of, see, or become aware of, the existence of any documents relating to pardons of any individual?

Whitaker: Uh, I am aware of documents relating to pardons of individuals, yes.

Admittedly, his response lacked any of his big “tells,” (such as drinking water or sneering or gritting his jaw), so this could be an answer pertaining to the normal role of the Attorney General in pardons (and Trump hasn’t pardoned all that many people, in any case). But it was an interesting exchange in any case.

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. 

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29 replies
  1. chicago_bunny says:

    I’m curious if you see other support in the transcript for the idea that this passage relates to some way to a pardon:

    By the same token, there was an unusual factor — the second unusual factor, which was [1.5 lines redacted] the normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement.

    It doesn’t seem like considerations relevant to a pardon would merit redaction.  That’s bolstered by the block quote that follows in your post, which includes an unredacted reference to the possibility of a pardon.  Could there be something else going on in the 1.5 redacted lines?

  2. pseudonymous in nc says:

    That discussion on page 83 onwards makes the very strong suggestion that Gates was asked to print out detailed (state-by-state?) polling data, bring it to the August meeting with Kilimnik, and that Manafort walked Kilimnik through it. Manafort’s lawyers try to offer an alternative narrative, then say that the data would be meaningless to Kilimnik, and then switch to calling Gates a liar. To me, that suggests a fuckload of nervousness about Paulie’s motivation.

    • HRHTish says:

      I am completely baffled as to what an “innocent” explanation might be for either Manfort or Gates to share polling info with a Russian overseas.  Even publicly available data.  I’m just shaking my head here wondering – – what does a defense counsel even do with that information?

      • maestro says:

        I can think of a couple explanations which wouldn’t be “innocent” but wouldn’t require the existence of a broader conspiracy.

        For example, a relatively simple explanation is that he passed on the polling data to prove he was still connected to the campaign and therefore remained a valuable resource worth paying. A way of saying, “See I still have inside info so you should continue paying me exhorbitant ‘consulting’ fees!”

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          That’s the “no downside”, “win-win” in the transcript: the innocent explanation is that Paulie the Rug shows that he’s making a difference in the campaign and also curries favour with Deripaska.

          But at the same time, Paulie’s lawyers essentially say “this data was meaningless to us, could it really have been valuable to a guy who had no deep background into American political campaigns?” But Weissman says “well, Kilimnik worked with Paulie, his people could crunch the data, and Gates was there and told us Paulie went through it with Kilimnik.”

          So my sense from parsing through the redactions — knowing that the redactions are there for a reason — is that Paulie was sharing the kind of raw and/or granular data that’s valuable to campaigns, but doesn’t typically go public.

  3. Stephen says:

    Spot on as usual. But the whole Manafort cooperation deal raises a question for me. We keep being told that the Mueller investigation is winding down (okay, maybe a lot of that comes from Rudy and the gang that can’t speak straight, but not all). But from what little I know about gangland/mob investigations, the general idea is to roll up from the bottom – let small fry off easy if they’ll turn on the big smelly fish. Now, Manafort is a pretty big, pretty smelly fish, maybe not the Great White but at least a hammerhead if you will. So in allowing him a chance at getting off easy, weren’t Team Mueller indicating pretty clearly that they expected to net someone bigger? And that wouldn’t be Stone, who at most is on the same plane of criminality as his former business partner. Shouldn’t we expect that nothing will “wind down” until someone even further inside than Manafort or Stone gets indicted, or at least named as an unindicted co-conspirator? And wouldn’t that practically have to be a member of the Drumpf clan? I stand ready to be corrected here, as I’m very possibly missing something of importance.

    • roberts robot double says:

      There is a chance that Mueller was using the timing of the plea deal combined with Manafort’s JDA and Trump’s being in the process of completing his written questionnaire to see if Trump would align his lies with Manafort’s. I’m guessing that Mueller would very well have liked to really get Manafort’s cooperation but he figured that Manafort’s covering lies would make it to Trump and that they would then show up in his written answers.

      This may very well be why so much of this latest document was redacted as they may have a direct bearing on Trump’s written lies and his greater obstruction of justice. And, of course, all counter-intelligence investigations are naturally kept very secret, which would *have* to include an American seeking to help subvert an election by providing a foreign power with data that would materially help them do what we now know they did.

  4. BobCon says:

    @ Trip — I agree the conspiracy is ongoing, or at least was. That is a pretty specific set of things Manafort did to muck up the investigation. He wasn’t just keeping quiet or claiming forgetfulness.

    Which says to me that he has been given a specific task list and comunications have been going on to ensure he was doing what he was told, and also to relay assurances that the deal was still on.

    What I wonder about, now that Mueller’s team has blown the whistle, is if they have short circuited the pardon. If Manafort has uncompleted items still on the to do list, does Trump pardon him? It’s hard to see Trump doing anything to reward Manafort just for trying if Trump thinks there is any potential harm to himself, no matter how trivial.

    • Trip says:

      Quietly, during or around the gov’t shutdown (Xmas 2018) was when Trump lifted the sanctions off Deripaska companies. In other words, Deripaska. Keep that in mind.

  5. pseudonymous in nc says:

    chicago_bunny: the unredacted reference to a pardon is from Westling, Manafort’s attorney. The redacted reference (which I do think is pardon-related, as nothing else fits the logic) is from Weissman. If there’s something else going on, it’s in reference toRudy911 admitting in late August that there was a meeting in June about a potential pardon (where McGahn disagreed) and whether that was communicated to Paulie the Rug.

    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/08/donald-trump-nuts-rejects-war-council-intervention-goes-it-alone

  6. orionATL says:

    paul manafort was said to be the real genius in the stone, manafort, black, atwater dirty-deeds partnership.

    so boy genius,

    with judges watching who have a distinct bias toward the u.s.,

    with manafort working for years with a russian military undercover agent,

    with his business centered squarely on helping russian puppets seize and stay in power in the ukraine,

    with intimate business partner (did the actual day-today work for m.) rick gates having already spilled his guts (mostly) to prosecutors and fbi and testified to grand jury,

    with his house and storage having been raided for documents and recordings,

    boy genius decides to rely on his inner liar to get and keep his butt out of the pokey because he knows donald j. trump knows that m. can put el presidente right in there with him.

    i’d say only more judge elises can keep this guy from eating baloney sandwiches (with a nice bechamel to be sure, but no more wine) for the next 10 years. and he’s already lost the 40 million bucks.

    what a plan – winging it from way, way up there.

  7. harpie says:

    Another interesting tweet from Marcy:

     7:55 AM – 8 Feb 2019 This is a really interesting comment from ABJ to Weissmann from the Manafort transcript. // Weissmann’s not on the Stone team.

    This is what’s she’s referring to:

    THE COURT: If you have a trial in this courtroom, you get to do that for your opening and closing. So you might want to get used to it.

    MR. WEISSMAN: Okay.

    • harpie says:

      Stone, today: Zoe Tillman 9:07 AM – 8 Feb 2019

      Roger Stone is looking to get a different judge – he’s opposing the designation of his case as “related” to another case (the GRU 2016 hacking prosecution.) When cases are “related,” they’re assigned to the same judge, as opposed to random assignment [link]../ MORE: Roger Stone is opposing the entry of a gag order in his case. His lawyers wrote that any such order “is opposed on First Amendment and void for vagueness and overbreadth grounds insofar as it may be applied to Defendant, Roger Stone

    • harpie says:

      More: NYC Sothpaw

      12:03 PM – 8 Feb 2019 In a notice given to Roger Stone, the government disclosed that evidence relevant to his case was “derived from search warrants executed” in the investigation that led to the GRU indictment / Stone has filed an objection to the designation of the GRU indictment as a related case, which is how we have this doc. His atty points out, reasonably, that he hasn’t been charged with hacking or conspiring w GRU, just lying and obstructing/witness tampering. Watch this space

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      To elaborate: as EW noted, the Andres objection and the subsequent sidebar ruling were pivotal in limiting the amount of shit that Paulie’s lawyers could throw at Gates based on his campaign activities. From this transcript, following a brief ex parte discussion between the prosecutors and ABJ, we know that it’s related to Gates’s account of the August 2nd meeting with Kilimnik, which was provided in an early proffer — possibly his first, according to Weissman — on January 30th 2018. Weissman’s argument is that if the campaign data Manafort provided was meaningless to Kilimnik, then why would he provide it? The two had worked together on election campaigns in Ukraine, so they knew about campaign data.

      (The redaction on line 17 of page 96 is almost certainly “jars of black caviar”, which Kilimnik used as code for money in his emails.)

      What I find interesting about this is how Paulie’s lawyers dodge the issue of the Kilimnik emails and go straight to citing the hung EDVA jury on various counts and media reports of one juror saying that Gates’s testimony wasn’t credible.

      So, they were willing to throw it in Gates’s face in EDVA, and Manafort is being shady about it now.

      To quote EW’s theory:

      Had he succeeded, perhaps Trump would have recognized the jeopardy that put Manafort (and, presumably, himself) in. Perhaps he would have taken that moment to pardon Manafort, and save him from that jeopardy.

      The jeopardy comes from what Manafort (and Gates) shared with Kilimnik in August 2016.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      (The thing I can’t parse out from the transcript is whether Paulie and Rick were passing on campaign data with the approval — implicit or explicit — of other high-ups in the campaign. But Gates knows.)

  8. Sans-Serf says:

    What I found interesting was on page 127 where Andres seems to confirm that the “Other DOJ Investigation” is directly related to Trump:

    Well, so for example, in the No. 4, […] you see Mr. Manafort changing his story so as not to implicate either [redacted] or someone in [redacted]. I think, with respect to this issue, again, Mr. Manafort is trying to distance himself from the administration and saying he’s not having contact with the administration at a time when he’s under at least one indictment.”

    [Thanks for your comment and welcome back to emptywheel. Please make sure to use the same user name each time so that community members get to know you. /~Rayne]

  9. P J Evans says:

    @Michael February 8, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Dear Ghu, these really aren’t very bright crooks. Smarter ones wouldn’t go out and commit the same crimes they’ve just been busted for.

  10. orionATL says:

    ew writes:

    “… Update: Rereading the transcript while I wait for the Whitaker hearing to resume. Here’s another instance where Weissmann suggests the normal incentives to cooperate weren’t in place, presumably because of a hoped for pardon.

    And to take — to go back to the example of Mr. Manafort’s saying to us: Well, that’s not what I said previously. What that showed is that the incentives of the agreement, where there are benefits to be had by cooperating, there are disincentives; because if you’re caught lying, that you can have serious consequences. It told us that those incentives were not working — were not working adequately. So, all of that factored into why we were making this decision…”

    i take manafort’s sly, flagrant lying to mean he is now a totally fatalistic person about his future. that makes him very dangerous to deal with for both sco (weissman and team) and president trump. he’s lost the money (though trump pals may take care of him) and he might feel, from the isolation of jail, that trump will not pardon him in time, or at all.

    even for a seasoned old hand who does talk ceaselessly with his lawyers, jail isolation must work on the mind.

    frankly, i can’t see trump not pardoning manafort whatever the temporary noisy cost (see longwinded, ineffective media raging about virginia politics) , in order to avoid his own political immolation.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Pardoning Paulie the Rug doesn’t make that much difference at this point — Mueller retains the right to take all his shit through civil forfeiture — if Gates was spilling a lot of the beans as far back as late January 2018. There’s the argument that Gates is an unreliable witness was neck-deep in shit, and ought to face actual jail time for that shit, but there’s a premium for flipping early and he took it. And Mueller has had a year to follow leads and corroborate, so I don’t think Weissman and Andres would be using Gates’s testimony as the baseline narrative as they did in that hearing if they didn’t feel good about it.

  11. OrionATL says:

    Pseudonymousinc 2/[email protected]:56p

    The prize is not manafort’s money; the prize is the occupancy and legitimacy of the presidency.

    My thought is that the recently highlighted aug 2, 2016 meeting between manafort&gates on the one hand and kilimnick on the other is the “final” storyline interaction between the trump campaign and the russian effort to damage clinton,’s candidacy that closes the gap legally and culpaply, physically too as it happens :) between trumpian and russian collusion.

    Beginning with her intetpretation of events based on media reports of the trump tower meeting of june 9, 2016 nearly 2 yrs ago, which she connected tentatively with the activation of gucifer 2.0 two wks later and trumps call about 800+ clinton campaign workers, ew has been slowly closing the scepticism gap about whether trump and putin colluded with reports about interactions between the two sides that were increasingly closer in time, or were persistent thru time (e.g., the reactivation by russians attending the june 9 meeting of demands for action on sanctions just after the november election and later the trump tower moscow discussions).

    The aug 2 meeting involving the transfer of democratic party campaign strategy documents i think proves intent to conspire and collude to use foreign state agency/power to damage clinton’s candidacy and, more importantly, to damage the expectation by american voters of fairness and closedness to outsider influence in their presidential election. Only manafort stands between making that case with skepticism (if manafort were to refuse to talk leaving gates impeached as a possibly lying witness) or with convincing testimony (if manafort
    were to feel compelled to testify fully and truthfully on the aug 2 meeting without squirrely lies and attacks on gates).

    A pardon buys manafort’s silence and leaves legal scepticism though the evidence that there was an active, persistent, effective conspiracy and bribery is now clear to all non-believers in lord don. With congressional testimony looming and almost certainly increasingly publicly damaging, i suspect trump is going to feel strongly he needs that particular critical scepticism even at the cost of more.

  12. Kevin says:

    Going way out on a limb and saying Jared Kushner is fucked. Issue IV, previously thought to be Calk, now obviously something closer to the campaign:

    Because they use courier new font, we can be sure how many letters are redacted. “Southern District of New York” fits for the other DOJ district. The person Manafort was protecting and whose FBI testimony Manafort changed his story to align with has a last name 7 letters long (pg. 111 and later) and a 5-letter first name pg. 111 line 1. Later on from Andres’ comments, it is clear that person is still in the administration. Who was a high-ranking campaign official, still in the administration, with a 5-letter first name and 7-letter last name?

    • Rayne says:

      Who was a high-ranking campaign official, still in the administration, with a 5-letter first name and 7-letter last name?

      Pussy Grabber?

    • Punctuated Equilibrium says:

      Who was a high-ranking campaign official, still in the administration, with a 5-letter first name and 7-letter last name?

      Oooh, ohh! Pick me, pick me!

    • Kevin says:

      I know trying to unredact these things is often a fool’s errand, but I think I’m going to turn out to be right about this one…

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