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The Unseen Aspects of Paul Manafort’s Lies and Truth-Telling Are as Telling as the Ones We’ve Seen

As noted, yesterday Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Mueller’s team had proven Paul Manafort lied in three of the five areas they accused him of lying about:

  • The kickback scheme via which he got paid
  • Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik to share polling data and discuss a “peace” deal with Ukraine
  • The role of a 7-character named person in an attempt to salvage Trump’s campaign being investigated in another district

The ruling is damning, and Manafort now may face what amounts to a life sentence (though, in her order ABJ noted that whether she’ll give him credit for acceptance of responsibility at sentencing depends “on a number of additional factors”).

Yet, in spite of the mounting evidence that Manafort shared polling data at a meeting where he also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal (a backdoor way of giving Russia sanctions relief), in spite of how damning this breach discussion has been, ABJ’s ruling is still just one step in an ongoing process.

I say that for several reasons that have to do with what we didn’t see as part of this breach determination.

We’re only seeing half of Manafort’s cooperation

First, we’re only seeing material relating to half of Manafort’s cooperation. In his declaration on the breach determination, FBI Agent Jeffrey Weiland described Manafort’s cooperation to include 14 sessions:

  • 3 pre-plea proffer sessions: September 11, 12, and 13
  • 9 debriefing sessions: September 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, October 1, October 5, October 11, and October 16
  • 2 grand jury appearances: October 26 and November 2

If I’ve tracked everything properly, the descriptions of Manafort’s lies only include material from some of those sessions:

  • 3 pre-plea proffer sessions: September 11, 12, and 13
  • 5 debriefing sessions: September 20, 21, October 1, October 5, and October 16
  • 1 grand jury appearance: October 26

That means there are three debriefing sessions and a grand jury appearance we haven’t heard anything about yet:

  • 3 debriefing sessions: September 25, 26, 27, and October 11
  • 1 grand jury appearance: November 2

In the breach hearing, Richard Westling claimed that the material we’ve seen constitutes just a “small set” of the topics covered in Manafort’s cooperation and he says some of the other topics were “more sensitive topics.”

WESTLING: And I think, you know, the last point that I would make is that given that relatively small set of areas where this occurred, whether even the allegations are being made, you know, we note that there’s not really a lot to explain. There’s no pattern, there’s no clear motive that would suggest someone who was trying to intentionally not share information. And many of the more sensitive topics that we’re aware of from a — all of us paying attention to what’s gone in the news cycle over the last many months, you know, are things where these issues didn’t come up, where there wasn’t a complaint about the information Mr. Manafort provided. And so we think that’s important context as we get started here today.

THE COURT: Do I have — and I don’t think I need them for today, but I’m certain that what you just said is also going to be a part of your acceptance of responsibility argument and argument at sentencing. Do I have the 302s from 12 days of interviews? Do I have everything, or do I only have what was given to me because it bore on the particular issues that I’m being asked to rule on today?

MR. WEISSMANN: Judge, you do not have everything. We are happy to give you the — all of the 302s. We just gave you — you have, I think, the majority of them, but not all of them.

THE COURT: Okay. And I don’t know that — if I need them. But, it’s hard to assess — and I certainly don’t think they should be a public part of any sentencing submission. But, if you want me to put this in context of more that was said, it helps to have it.

Now, it’s possible that Manafort did tell the truth about these more sensitive topics. It’s possible that (for example, with regards to Trump’s foreknowledge of the June 9 meeting), Manafort lied but prosecutors don’t have proof he did. Or it’s possible they know he lied about other issues but for investigative reasons, don’t want to share the proof they know he lied.

One of the other topics Manafort would have been asked about — which Westling’s reference to “what’s gone in the news cycle over the last many months” may reference — pertains to Roger Stone’s actions.

ABJ asked for — and presumably has or will obtain — the rest of the 302s from Manafort’s cooperation, so she may end up agreeing with Manafort’s lawyers that some of his cooperation was quite valuable.

Mueller was interested in Manafort’s cooperation, in part, to obtain intelligence

As I’ve noted before, Andrew Weissmann described Manafort’s cooperation to be somewhat unusual for the extent to which Mueller was seeking intelligence, rather than criminal evidence. Though he makes clear that that was true, as well, of Rick Gates’ early cooperation.

[T]here’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

[snip]

And with Mr. Gates, we also wanted to make sure that we could get information, and we thought that there was — I think there was certainly a significant issue. And we dealt with it by having the defendant plead to something in addition to take — to have the ramification for it. But that is to show, I think, an example of wanting the intelligence, but dealing with what we considered to be, you know, unacceptable behavior from the Government, particularly from somebody whose information we would rely on, and potentially ask the jury to rely on.

So we may never see a great deal of what Manafort was asked about.

Mueller is still protecting an ongoing investigation

That said, Mueller is still protecting both his and the other DOJ ongoing investigation. We know what Mueller is protecting from the redactions in the transcript.

ABJ noted that much of what they discussed at the breach hearing could be unsealed, while noting that Mueller felt more strongly about keeping some things secret.

I think a large portion of what we discussed could be public. I think there are certain issues where you probably only need to redact out names and turn them back into entities. And then there are may be one or two issues where we’re really talking about something that was completely redacted at every point prior to this and will continue to be. And, hopefully, you’ll both be on the same page about that with respect to what of the investigation is not yet public. I think the Office of Special Counsel has the stronger point of view about that.

Certainly, all the names had to be redacted, under DOJ guidelines prohibiting the publication of anyone’s name who has not been charged. Likewise, the other investigation is not Mueller’s to reveal (in any case, it seems to be still active, even if Manafort’s refusal to cooperate may have protected the target of it).

But more of the rest of the discussion could have been unsealed if Mueller didn’t have ongoing interests in the topics. Those topics include Manafort’s ongoing communications with the Administration, Ukrainian peace deal/sanctions relief, and his sharing of polling data (though there’s one reference to sharing polling data on page 19 that may have gotten missed by the censors). Mueller redacted those things even though Weissmann makes clear that they believe the polling data goes to the core of what they are investigating.

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [2 lines redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

Note his use of the present progressive. They’re still trying to answer the question about whether that August 2 amounts to witting conspiracy with Russia.

Mueller is still sitting on information about the shared polling data

It may well be that, given Manafort’s refusal to cooperate on this issue, Mueller will never be able to charge Trump’s campaign for sharing polling data with Russia in the context of sanctions relief.

But they are sitting on more information than came out publicly in this breach discussion. Starting on page 93 of the transcript, ABJ, on her own, brings up other information she has seen, that pertains to the topic.

THE COURT: I need to ask the Office of Special Counsel about something ex parte because — and so I apologize for that, but I need to do that. And it may be after I talk to them, they tell me there’s no problem with sharing it with you. But I have received information in this case, in this binder, and in other means, and I just want to make sure I understand something. And so, I can’t — I need to ask —

MR. DOWNING: We would object. But we don’t know he —

THE COURT: I note your objection. And I will deem your objection also to be a request that what we’re about to discuss be revealed to you. And that will be the first thing I’m going to ask. And we can do it at the end, after we’re done, or you can just have him come to the bench for a minute.

The ex parte discussion on this topic is fairly short. But after the lunch break, Weissmann tells ABJ that the material she was thinking of remains redacted. But he does point her to two Gates 302s from early in his cooperation that seem to provide some of the same information.

THE COURT: All right. Let me start with you, Mr. Weissmann. Is there anything further you can add to what we talked about, that you can add publicly?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes. Yes, Your Honor. So, we haven’t finished our review, but we believe that the material that you asked about was redacted.

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. WEISSMANN: However, I would like to direct your attention to two exhibits in the record. If you recall, I mentioned that I recalled that Mr. Gates had, very early on in his cooperation, given us information about [redacted]. And there are two 302s that are dated in, I believe, both in January of 2018. So before he actually pled guilty, so in connection with his proffers. So, the first one is Exhibit 222. And if you look at page 17 of that exhibit, there’s a long explanation of communications with [redacted] that refer to [redacted] at the direction of Mr. Manafort. And then if you look — and that is dated January 31st, 2018. And that was, of course, provided to counsel in connection with the Eastern District of Virginia trial. And Exhibit 236, and I believe I referred you previously to page 3, and I would also refer you to page 5. Both of those refer to [redacted] and also refer to the discussions of the — discussions of [redacted] at the August 2nd, 2016 meeting.

THE COURT: All right. I will look at all of that. So for right now, I’m going to leave the little conversation that we had ex parte, ex parte with your objection noted.

MR. WEISSMANN: Judge, we will continue to look to see if there is any portion that was unredacted to confirm that.

Given the issues she has presided over, this may pertain to one of the search warrant affidavits that Manafort tried to get completely unsealed last year, but which ABJ suggested pertained to other people.

In any case, there’s more on the sharing of polling data that ABJ knows about, this is relevant to its importance, but that does not appear in the unsealed transcript.

Mueller didn’t reveal all the evidence of Manafort’s attempts to contact the Administration

Finally, there appear to be communications between Manafort and Administration officials that Mueller did not release as part of this process. The government stated that clearly in a footnote (on page 27) of its breach declaration.

This is not a complete listing of such contacts Manafort had with Administration officials. Further, for the purpose of proving the falsity of Manafort’s assertions in this section, the government is not relying on communications that may have taken place, with Manafort’s consent, through his legal counsel.

And, in a bid to refute Manafort’s claim, in the redaction fail filing, that, “Mr. Manafort was well aware that the Special Counsel’s attorneys and investigators had scrutinized all of his electronic communications” because “Mr. Manafort voluntarily produced numerous electronic devices and passwords at the request of the Government,” Agent Weiland states that the FBI had found more than 10 devices or documents for which Manafort hadn’t shared a password.

Defendant said in his pleading that he has provided electronic to the government. However, although he has provided some electronic data, passwords, and documents, in more than ten instances he did not provide passwords to access his electronic communications, thumb drives, or documents.

Mueller’s team remains coy about how many of those 10 accounts, thumb drives, or documents they’ve been able to access without his assistance.

And Greg Andres provides some hints about what those other conversations involve: Manafort providing information about the investigation.

MR. ANDRES: Sure. Judge, throughout the interviews with Mr. Manafort and some of the issues we’ve discussed today, you see that he constantly either minimizes the information he has about the administration or any contact with the administration. So there’s an issue whether or not during his cooperation he’s communicating with [15 character redaction] or providing information about the questions or other things that are happening in the special counsel investigation, whether he’s sharing that with other people. And this is another example of Mr. Manafort —

THE COURT: That hasn’t been given to me as we’re troubled by this or he wasn’t truthful about that, so I don’t see how to put this in the context of that because I don’t know about that.

MR. ANDRES: Well, so for example, in the No. 4, the one that Mr. Manafort — that Mr. Weissmann just talked about with respect to the [redacted, other investigation], 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.

THE COURT: But you’re not suggesting right now that there’s more information in here about other efforts to distance himself from the administration or to deny a relationship or to deny reporting back to them?

MR. ANDRES: We’re not relying on any other evidence of that issue.

Particularly given that Manafort, between his early September proffers and his October 5 lies about the other investigation, managed to match his own testimony to that of the Trump associate being targeted in it, those communications may even date as recently as last fall (though that would mean he was communicating with the Administration from jail).

The fact that Mueller has other communications between Manafort and the Administration — but chose not to bolster their argument that Manafort lied about ongoing communications with the White House — suggests protecting what he wants to do with those communications is more valuable than convincing ABJ that Manafort lied about this topic (and, indeed, this is one of the two topics where she did not rule for the government).

For all the debate about whether Mueller is almost done or not, the things we didn’t learn about during this breach discussion are just as interesting as the things we did learn about. They suggest that all the discussion about cooperation deals (including my own) often forgets that Mueller is seeking both criminal evidence and intelligence on what the Russians were doing. They also suggest that Manafort may have provided testimony that bears on other parts of the investigation we’ve recently learned about (which might include Stone, or the Trump Tower deal) — but we can’t be sure whether Manafort told the truth, or whether he lied but Mueller either can’t prove or doesn’t want to reveal that he knows Manafort lied. They suggest that Mueller would still like to make the case, in whatever form, that Manafort intentionally gave the Russians polling data with the understanding that he’d push a Ukrainian peace deal that amounted to sanctions relief — but Manafort’s refusal to cooperate on this point might thwart that effort. Finally, they make it clear that Manafort remained a part of an effort to obstruct this investigation, including via means that bypassed the Joint Defense Agreement Trump has exploited.

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. 

Paul Manafort Sold Out Donald Trump — and His Anonymous Leakers Are Lying about It Publicly

Back when Paul Manafort’s lawyers redaction fail first revealed that Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, someone made the following claim to the NYT:

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Given what appears in the breach hearing transcript, that appears to be a totally blatant lie. And Manafort’s lawyers appear to have made similar cynical lies in that hearing to deny what Manafort had actually done.

For reference, here are the other filings on Manafort’s breach:

The data was incredibly detailed

The discussion of the polling data starts on page 82. Judge Amy Berman Jackson starts by noting that Manafort tried to deny the data had been shared and claimed at one point that it was just public data.

He said it just was public information.

Later in the hearing, when Manafort’s lawyers suggest that this was mostly public data — part of the claim that someone leaked to the NYT — ABJ asked then why the pollster (this is probably a reference to Tony Fabrizio, whom Mueller met with in the weeks before Rick Gates flipped and after Gates first revealed that they had shared the data) was making so much money.

In response, Richard Westling, from the same defense team working so hard to claim this was public data, then wildly shifted, arguing that the data was so detailed it would be meaningless to someone like him. In response, ABJ notes that that’s what makes the sharing of it so important.

But, as Weissmann lays out, not only had Kilimnik worked for Manafort (and therefore with this pollster, Fabrizio) for many years — so would know how to read the data — Manafort walked him through the data at the August 2 meeting.

Later in this exchange, ABJ has an ex parte discussion with the prosecutors, to see if something she’s been made aware of can be shared with Manafort’s lawyers. Remember: she is also presiding over Sam Patten’s case. Patten worked with both Gates and Manafort, and was working with Kilimnik in this period. He not only might be able to corroborate the data-sharing story, but he would be able to help Kilimnik use it, even if the years of working with Manafort hadn’t already prepared Kilimnik to do so himself. When Patten submitted a status report on December 31, it was filed under seal; his next status report is due on Monday.

The data was shared with multiple people, which Manafort considered a win-win

Andrew Weissmann lays out that Manafort ultimately admitted that the data would be shared both with a named individual and with some other entity. And he describes Manafort considering the sharing of that data to be a win-win, perhaps suggesting that it might help Donald Trump, but even if it didn’t, it would get him work in Ukraine and Russia down the road.

Weissmann returns to that — sharing this data, for Manafort, was a win-win, unless the fact that he shared the data subsequently became public.

Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

[snip]

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

Of course, now it’s public and Manafort is willing to lie himself into further prison time to try to downplay that he shared detailed polling data with someone the FBI maintains has ties to the same Russian agency that hacked the DNC right in the middle of the campaign.

Update: JL notes that neither of the two Ukrainian oligarchs identified by NYT’s leakers, Lyovochkin and Akhmetov, fit the 9-character redaction after “Mr.” in the last screen cap. But “Deripaska” does. And we know this meeting was specifically focused on Kilimnik reporting back to Deripaska. In addition, Deripaska’s plane was in NY just after the meeting.

Manafort and Gates shared the data on August 2, not in the spring

At least according to ABJ’s understanding, Gates and Manafort shared the data not in the spring (as claimed to the NYT) but at the August 2, 2016 meeting at the Havana Club, to which — discussion elsewhere made clear — the two men came and left separately, emphasizing the clandestine nature of this hand-off.

ABJ’s understanding is backed by several Gates’ 302s, which must also correlate with emails that, per ABJ, corroborate Gates’ account.

Even before ABJ made that point, Westling appears to suggest that what Gates shared with Kilimnik was the most recent data.

One other reason this is important — but which didn’t get mentioned in this hearing: Manafort shared incredibly detailed polling information with someone who has ties to GRU a month before GRU went back to hack Hillary’s analytics. So they had very detailed data from both sides.

Kevin Downing twice attempts to render a jury verdict against Gates

Manafort’s team, generally, tries to claim that the sharing of polling data is just a matter of Gates’ word against Manafort’s, in spite of there being emails involving Manafort himself on sharing the data (and, apparently, emails showing whom Kilimnik shared them with).

But when ABJ notes that the poll data hand-off happened at the August 2 Havana Club meeting, in a fit of desperation, Kevin Downing claims that this all depended on Gates’ testimony and ABJ shouldn’t take anything he said as true because the jury found he totally lacked credibility. ABJ warns him twice not to go there.

MR. DOWNING: Your Honor, one other point. I know this Court hasn’t had the opportunity to review the testimony, probably, of Mr. Gates from Eastern District of Virginia, but he was found so incredible by the jury that a juror said to the press that they completely disregarded his entire testimony. So to the extent that this Court would cite Mr. Gates as any evidence, I think a review of the findings of the jurors in EDVA should be undertaken because if he is not corroborated —

THE COURT: Don’t. Don’t.

MR. DOWNING: Your Honor, it’s a fact.

THE COURT: I’m not going to base anything on what one juror said to the press.

In spite of having been warned once, Downing again returns to what the juror in EDVA said later in the hearing.

MR. DOWNING: And I will admit, on my end I won’t take it as a failure on my part because I did not think this Court wouldn’t take into consideration the fact how he was found to have no credibility at all by the jury over there.

THE COURT: You cannot keep saying that.

MR. DOWNING: I can keep saying it, Your Honor, because it’s true

THE COURT: First of all, you’re asking me to make a determination about what 12 jurors concluded because of what one juror was quoted in the paper as saying, which right now I don’t even have in front of me. But I believe she said we decided to vote on whether or not we could find him beyond a reasonable doubt, putting his testimony aside, which is different than saying we agreed, as 12 people, that nothing he said was true.

MR. DOWNING: That’s — that’s —

THE COURT: That’s totally different.

MR. DOWNING: I disagree with you. But I could go and get the press account of that.

THE COURT: I don’t know. I don’t have the press account. The press account is not evidence.

Downing floats bringing ABJ the press account himself, but then suggests he could provide the transcript. ABJ even offers to call Gates before her to testify.

Over lunch, ABJ goes on her own to find that press account. And, as she explains immediately after lunch, she doesn’t agree with Downing’s reading of it. Indeed, she calls it hyperbolic.

I went back and read the article that I believe I read at the time and, indeed, there was a juror who spoke publicly. She spoke publicly because she said she wanted the public to know that while she wanted Mr. Manafort to be not guilty, the evidence was overwhelming.

She indicated that the only reason he was not convicted on all counts was because of a lone holdout in the jury. She did not attribute that to Mr. Gates’s credibility. And reportedly, she did say, as I thought I recalled, some of us had a problem accepting his testimony because he took the plea. So we agreed to throw out his testimony and look at the paperwork. And then she added, I think he would have done anything to preserve himself, that’s just obvious in the fact that he flipped on Manafort.

So, I don’t believe — there’s certainly not anything in this record for these proceedings, or the public record, for that matter, that supports your argument that I should consider the fact that the jury unanimously concluded he was a liar, as was reported in the press by a juror, and threw out his testimony. I don’t believe that that is what the newspaper articles reported. Not that I would have relied on the newspaper article or what happened in the Eastern District of Virginia anyway, but I believe your argument was a little hyperbolic.

Manafort’s lawyers knew about this allegation because they tried to air it during the EDVA trial

In addition to trying to claim that this matter just pits Gates against Manafort, Manafort’s lawyers try to claim that Gates only made the claim about sharing polling data last fall, late in the process of his cooperation, meaning that they didn’t have an opportunity to prep their client on it.

I may be wrong about this, but we have a note — a September 27th, 2018 interview which we did not see until this submission was made, where Mr. Gates makes that statement.

Mr. Weissmann has suggested we had all of Mr. Gates’s 302s where he said this previously. I don’t think he said it before that interview. And so as far as we know, that’s new testimony from Mr. Gates compared to what he said in prior proffer sessions, where I think he said something more like it was more what was publicly available.

Weissmann corrects that by noting that at a proffer on January 30, 2018, Gates laid all that out.

Mr. Weissmann, with respect to the specific argument that they just made that this was a new twist by Mr. Gates, only in the 302 that they most recently received, do you have anything you want to add to that, respond to that?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes, I do. So, I would direct the Court’s attention to Exhibit 236, which is a 302 with respect to Mr. Gates, and the date of that is January 30th, 2018.

He later notes the two 302s from early in Gates’ cooperation where that came up (it was actually January 31, not January 30).

In any case, after first raising Gates’ proffer from January mentioning Manafort sharing this polling data, Weissmann notes that Kevin Downing called attention to this during the EDVA trial.

Back in September, I suggested that Greg Andres’ success at getting this sidebar sealed probably had something to do with Manafort’s willingness to take a fairly shitty plea deal. It was a big fucking deal at the time. And the notion that Kevin Downing — who tried to get the information in the public record at the trial — is now claiming he didn’t know about it is simply contemptuous.

Manafort lied about sharing data with a Russian asset in hopes of getting a pardon

And this is where what appears to be at least the second reference in the hearing to Manafort’s hopes of getting a pardon appears (by context, this is almost certainly Weissmann, though the transcript labels it as Westling).

Manafort knows well what he did in August 2016. But he — and his lawyers, and whoever lied anonymously to the NYT — continue to lie about it in hopes that, by refusing to confirm that he conspired with Russia to get Trump elected, Trump will pay him off with a pardon.

The truth appears to be that Manafort walked Konstantin Kilimnik through recent, highly detailed polling data at a clandestine meeting in NYC on August 2, 2016, in part because even if it didn’t help Trump, it might help his own fortunes down the way. And he’s willing to bet that lying about that fact is his best chance for a pardon.

Update, from the comments: Eureka notes that the same night Manafort shared campaign data, probably with Oleg Deripaska, Stone defended him, insisting he was doing “everything humanly possible to help” Trump.

Aug 2, 2016 09:59:24 PM The idea that @PaulManafort is not doing everything humanly possible to help @realDonaldTrump win is patently false [Twitter for iPhone]

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. 

The Objection that Made Mueller’s Case

This will be a grandiose statement, but what the fuck, it’s a crazy day.

The moment when Robert Mueller made his case came on August 7 when Greg Andres objected to a line of Kevin Downing’s cross-examination of Rick Gates.

The lawyers went into a sidebar with Judge Ellis. According to a successful prosecution motion to seal that part of the sidebar, the two sides argued about details of Mueller’s investigation.

On August 7, 2018, the Court held a sidebar conference to address a line of questioning pursued by the defense during their cross-examination of witness Richard Gates. During the sidebar conference, substantive evidence pertaining to an ongoing investigation was revealed.

Ultimately, Ellis ruled that Manafort’s team could not pursue that line of questioning. I believe that objection is what led to Manafort’s plea deal today, and with it, likely the final bits to the key conspiracy case against Trump and his spawn.

I say that for the following reasons.

Manafort got very little (that we can see) from his plea deal

Start with Manafort’s plea deal. When I was thinking of Mueller’s leverage the other day, I imagined Manafort might plead to the charges he did today, but that Mueller would also bracket off some of Manafort’s forfeitures — probably the $16 million that the holdout juror saved Manafort in the EDVA case. That didn’t happen — Mueller dumped the EDVA forfeiture into this deal, so that Manafort will lose all of his thus far identified ill-gotten gains (he’s apparently swapping his Trump Tower apartment for one of the financial accounts, which means that the US government will soon own a Trump Tower property it has unlimited discretion to decide what to do with).

And unless he gets a downward departure for significant cooperation, he’ll do ten years. Under some scenarios, that’s what he would have gotten had he gone to trial in DC and lost. So aside from saving him from a second (and possibly third, if the government pursued the 10 hung charges in EDVA) trial, Manafort got very little that we can see in his plea — just the legal fees associated with the trial(s), while losing the forfeiture he had won by going to trial in EDVA. And for that very little, he kisses away all hope he’ll get a pardon, as well as the (admittedly slim) chance that he might not be found guilty in DC. He also forgoes any appeals and any profits off telling his story. He basically commits to going to prison and coming out an old man to a vastly diminished fortune.

The possible plea benefits we don’t know about

That says the reasons behind Manafort’s decision to accept this plea are things we can’t see but he can.

There are two related possibilities: First, that Manafort came to the conclusion that he’d never get the pardon he had been working towards. That might stem from justified distrust that Trump will ever keep his word, but I doubt it. A pardon was always Manafort’s best way out, and up to a point, it made sense for him to take his chances with Trump.

Which suggests that, for some reason, Manafort came to believe Trump wouldn’t be able to pardon him, probably because he came to understand it would be politically impossible or legally improbable.

Couple that with the other thing that might convince Manafort he’d be better off taking this plea now than continuing to fight his charges: that he knew the next thing he was going to be charged with would be far worse. Just as one example, I’ve suggested that once you’re working for the government of Ukraine (as Manafort was, in the charges settled today) or the government of Russia (as might be established if you showed Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer, as Mueller has already alleged), very little separates a FARA charge (what he pled to today) from a 18 USC 951 charge, spying. It’s a lot harder to pardon someone for spying than to pardon him for obstruction and financial crimes.

It’s also possible that Manafort came to understand the scope of the conspiracy prosecutors are now pursuing. If he knew they already had the evidence to charge Trump as a co-conspirator in that conspiracy, it would also make it a lot harder for the President to pardon his co-conspirators.

In any case, whatever it is, it’s likely that Manafort had figured out where the prosecutors were heading, and he recognized he was far better off with this painful cooperation deal than being included in the next indictments. Losing his ostrich skin shirt (and five homes and $46 million) and trying to cooperate into a lesser sentence beats facing down a spying charge as part of a conspiracy with both the Russians and a president with severely curtailed pardon abilities, as it turns out.

The Rick Gates details he tried — but failed — to put into the public record

Which brings me back to that Andres objection on August 7.

Just before the EDVA trial, the government would have had to provide Manafort all their 302s from Rick Gates, so he could use that information to damage Gates’ credibility on the stand. And damage his credibility he did, among other things, by revealing that Gates stole money from the Trump transition.

But in addition to looking at those 302s for impeachment evidence, Manafort also surely looked at it to see what Gates had already provided to Mueller’s prosecutors. I’m guessing (based off what a number of people have said about the role Gates played on the campaign) that Gates got Mueller 90% of the way to a conspiracy involving the President, leaving just some meetings attended only by Manafort and Trump as gaps in the evidentiary record.

And that’s what I believe Downing was trying to do back on August 7: Elicit testimony from Gates that would lay out some of the evidence he had provided Mueller in such a way that didn’t violate the protective order he signed in the DC case (there’s not one in the EDVA case, but the DC one basically covers that, not least because the discovery significantly overlaps). So Downing was trying to put into the public record something about what Gates had told Mueller.

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

But Greg Andres piped up to object, Mueller’s team won the still sealed sidebar discussion, and Manafort failed to introduce whatever evidence into the public record for Trump and his other co-conspirators to see.

Which left Trump and his legal team, even as Manafort had his first proffer discussion with Mueller on Monday, still claiming that Manafort remained in a Joint Defense Agreement four days later, apparently blissfully unaware that Manafort had seen enough to decide it was time to flip.

Downing’s ploy probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. Pardoning Manafort might have helped Manafort, but if Mueller got 90% of the way to the conspiracy with the witnesses he has (including Sam Patten, whose plea surely contributed to Manafort’s certainty he was fucked going forward), then it wouldn’t have helped Trump and probably would have gotten us closer to when Republicans realize Trump has become an anvil rather than an electoral plus.

But I suspect that was the moment when Manafort’s cooperation, with whatever last little bits implicating Trump, became inevitable.

As I disclosed 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. 

In Addition to Mueller, Six People Are Prosecuting Paul Manafort … and Trump Has No Appropriate Defense Attorney

Because I’ve been obsessing about how Robert Mueller is using his 17 prosecutors, I wanted to note that three different collections of people have signed the responses to Paul Manafort’s challenges to his indictment. On Monday’s response to the challenge to Mueller’s authority generally, Michael Dreeben and Adam Jed appeared, but Kyle Freeny, who has been a member of this team, did not.

On the response to Manafort’s challenge of a money laundering charge and its forfeiture allegation, Freeny is included, as well as Scott Meisler, but not the other two appellate specialists.

On the response to Manafort’s bid to dismiss one of his two false statements charges, just Weissmann, Andres, and Meisler appear.

So even the prosecution of just one defendant, Mueller has now deployed three primary prosecutors and three different appellate specialists.

Meanwhile, the President can’t even find one competent defense attorney to represent him.

Update: Not fucking around.