Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Maximum Bob Has A Big Report Coming, But It May Not Be What You Think It Is

T.J. KIRKPATRICK FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Intertubes have been afire over stories on the imminent release of a big report from Robert Mueller.   
It is widely assumed that this is the (drum roll, please!) eagerly anticipated final report as dictated by Department of Justice regulations, which require that at the conclusion of Mueller's investigation he will "provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel."  The attorney general is now William Barr, whom Donald Trump nominated because he hopes Barr will dig a hole and bury the report.   
The online conflagration was stoked by stories from NBC News, CNN and The Washington Post to the effect that their sources are being told Mueller could send his final report to Barr as early as next week, but none of the stories even hint at what the report will say.  
The WaPo story had the obligatory anonymous "adviser to Trump" source who said there "is palpable concern among the president's inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct." 
Because I read that quote at night and not over breakfast, I was not able to blow coffee through my nose.  (Beer would not have worked.)  Since when has anything damaged Trump politically?  Two fricking years of revelations about all the contacts that Trump campaign officials and advisers had with Russians, some of them surely with Trump's knowledge, have failed to damage him politically in any significant way and still won't even if he is named by Mueller as an unindicted co-conspirator. 
Meanwhile, the CNN story was supplemented with kibbles from its Maximum Bob stakeout team such as "On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, special counsel's office employees carried boxes and pushed a cart full of files out of their office — an unusual move that could foreshadow a hand-off of legal work." 
Portraying clerks pushing carts as an "unusual move" beggars belief, so until the news hounds come up with something more definitive than coffee grounds making interesting patterns at the bottoms of their newsroom mugs, I'm going to suggest that the real imminent release of a report will be anticlimactic but -- alas for the president and his sycophancy -- nevertheless a scene from their worst nightmare. 
That would be a thoroughgoing Paul Manafort sentencing memo due on Friday that Barr can't touch. 
The best-case scenario for the good guys is that Mueller will lay out in the sentencing memo in damning detail the former Trump campaign chairman's collusion with Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik, specifically the sharing of inside campaign polling data as ammo for Vladimir Putin's cyberespionage of Hillary Clinton, as well as backchannel leaks to the White House through one of Manafort's lawyers as he set about breaking his plea agreement by lying through his teeth in hopes of securing a presidential pardon.   
And if perchance the memo is heavily redacted, it would be to protect aspects of Mueller's ongoing investigation into other Trump campaign perps that may lead to what Marcy Wheeler calls an "overarching conspiracy indictment." 
Marcy is the doyen of Russia scandal watchers and writes with unimpeachable (ouch!) good sense at emptywheel that such an indictment would lay out
[H]ow Trump and his spawn entered into a quid quo pro with various representatives of the Russian government, getting dirt on Hillary and either a Trump Tower or maybe a bailout for the very same building in which Manafort met with Kilimnik on August 2, 2016.  In exchange for all that, Trump agreed to — and took steps to deliver on . . . reversing the sanctions that were such a headache to Russia's oligarchs. 
Meanwhile, Mueller also has loose ends to wrap up.   
His prosecutors are involved in several subpoena fights, notably one involving a foreign state-owned mystery bank that has worked its way up to the Supreme Court, and I just don't see him dropping that ball.  
All this by way of saying that final report may remain a ways off. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.    

And He Stoned Me: Roger Rushes The Ramparts In Joining Trump's Last Stand

© RICHARD CODOR. USED WITH PERMISSION.
When is an apology not an apology?  When it comes from Roger Stone. 
The notorious dirty trickster, serial liar, witness tamperer, convicted felon-in-waiting and Donald Trump's longest serving adviser is back in the news -- which is right where he wants to be -- following an Instagram post with the name and face of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge overseeing his criminal case, as well as one of Stone pal and former campaign manager Paul Manafort's legal train wrecks.  Accompanying the image was a crosshair symbol mimicking a rifle scope (as in Jackson ought to be shot) and a rant about a gag order she had imposed on him.  
"Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson," Stone wrote, adding that Jackson is "an Obama appointed judge" and the "#fixisin." 
Stone deleted the crosshairs and then the picture itself after posting them on Monday, later disingenuously explaining that the crosshairs "is evidently more a Celtic symbol," and later still an "occult symbol." 
His lawyers then filed with Berman's court a confection they called a Notice of Apology, which was not technically a legal document but did include a signed statement from Stone saying, "Please inform the court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted.  I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologize to the court for the transgression." 
Stone, of course, had every intention of disrespecting Berman in inviting people to shoot her.  And in doing so succeeded in his goal, which was to generate reams of news coverage, try to warp the jury pool for when he goes to trial, and call attention to Trump's Last Stand. 
The president, of course, is neck deep in the Russia scandal.  About all he has left by way of a defense is to claim, as he has relentlessly done with the help of alpha poodle Senator Lindsey Graham and now Stone, among others, that the scandal is a deep-state coup d'état engineered by Special Counsel Mueller and the FBI to avenge Hillary Clinton's defeat. 
(Side note: In May 2017, then-deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe notified the so-called Gang of Eight, the top-ranking congressfolk on intelligence committees, that a counterintelligence investigation into Trump had been launched after he fired FBI Director James Comey and was acting especially nutty, and there were no objections.  So Republicans buying into the deep-state crap are being even more hypocritical than usual.)
Trump's Last Stand is a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy.    
It is a way for Trump to hold his "base" as he feverishly tries to rearrange deck chairs on the Ship of State, the indictments, convictions and news media blockbusters pile up, and he sees associate after associate turn on his sorry arse and decide to cooperate with the feds rather than go down with the ship. 
The latest blockbuster broke on Tuesday when The New York Times reported that Trump - who of course would have nothing to worry about if he wasn't guilty as sin -- had made secret assaults on federal law enforcement to try to subvert various Russia and related investigations in addition to his known efforts.  These assaults included asking Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker whether a perceived Trump loyalist could be put in charge of the widening investigation into his hush money payments. 
Meanwhile, The Times reported, Trump has publicly attacked the Russia investigations over 1,ooo times.
Jackson had fired a warning shot over the bow of the Ship of State last week in ruling against a motion by Stone to have her replaced as judge on the case.  She also imposed a gag order limiting the statements Stone can make at the federal courthouse, which is his version of a circus midway with himself as ringmaster. 
Jackson warned Stone that she would be paying attention to his conduct. 
"While it is not up to the court to advise the defendant as to whether a succession of public statements would be in his best interest at this time," wrote Jackson, "it notes that one factor that will be considered in the evaluation of any future request for relief based on pretrial publicity will be the extent to which the publicity was engendered by the defendant himself." 
In other words, the more Stone runs his month, the less likely the court will look favorably on his requests for lenience or special treatment. 
Jackson ordered Stone back to court in the wake of the Instagram dustup.  On Thursday, he will have to explain to her why the gag order and the liberal conditions of his release after his January indictment should not be modified or revoked.  
Lest we forget, that seven-count indictment alleges that Stone sought stolen emails from WikiLeaks to damage Clinton in coordination with senior Trump campaign officials and was in direct communication with Guccifer 2.0, a persona operated by Russia's GRU, 12 intelligence officers of which were indicted by Mueller in July on charges they hacked the computer networks of the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee and other Democratic organizations.  
Berman has been scrupulously fair.  In Manafort's sordid case, she has sometimes sided with his lawyers in pre-sentencing arguments over why he shouldn't spend the rest of his life in prison.  So on Thursday, she'll likely give Stone more rope to hang himself, if not send him to jail as she did with Manafort when he gave the court the middle finger by blowing his home-confinement release by witness tampering.   
Manafort is still in jail and probably will spend the rest of his life in prison.  Stone understands the peril he is in, but still won't pass up yet another opportunity to blow his bugle for Trump's Last Stand.    

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Will The Republic Of Absolution Without Confession Permit The Don To Go Free?

VANITY FAIR
Richard Nixon's Constitution-undermining crime spree is rewarded with a presidential pardon and he is later rehabilitated as a sage.  General William Westmoreland is rewarded for his ruinously deadly Vietnam War policy by being named Army chief of staff.  Elliott Abrams is a leading architect of the law-breaking Iran Contra affair whose bloody hands are all over the massacre of nearly 1,000 El Salvadoran women and children and is rewarded with jobs in the Dubya and Trump administrations.  Only a few low-level subordinates are punished for the extralegal Bush Torture Regime while the real perps are rewarded with cushy retirements after being excused by Barack Obama. 
And so it goes in the Republic of Absolution Without Confession. 
This shambolic history keeps repeating itself, and you'd better believe that it will play an outsized role in determining the fate of Donald Trump.   In fact, because Trump is president (pardon the term) of the Republic of Absolution Without Confession, he may never pay for his methodical destruction of the things that once made America great. This despite the best intentions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and subpoena-empowered House Democrats. 
(The only exception to that Absolution Without Confession history actually strengthens the argument: Vice President Spiro Agnew, an out-and-out crook, copped a plea to a single felony charge of tax evasion in 1973 and resigned not because he was repentant but because he needed to be gotten out of the way because of the growing likelihood of Nixon's impeachment.  Removing one crook only to replace him with another might have created big problems.)   
Absolution Without Confession in America -- as opposed to the canonical law version of the Roman Catholic Church -- and the possibility Trump will benefit from this recurring lapse of judgment has been much on my mind because removing Trump is not just about lawbreaking.  He is a mentally unstable incompetent with only a fleeting acquaintance with reality and a pathological liar toxically unsuited to be in the same room with the nuclear football.
The recent and long overdue dressing-down of an unrepentant Abrams before a House committee by a freshman congresswoman wearing a hajib and armed with a conscience really brought the Absolution Without Confession conundrum into focus for me.  And Charles Pierce, as well, whose Esquire essay is a must-read if you love America but are bewildered, as you should be, about how the worst official misdeeds go unpunished.   
Writes Pierce:
In so many of these cases, the process bespeaks a fundamental distrust among our political elites about the sturdiness of our democratic institutions, a distrust that weakens them in turn and renders them less sturdy. 
The ostriches amongst that political elite, as well as too damned many constitutional and presidential scholars, fear that impeaching Trump would be too traumatic for a nation that has survived a lot of very heavy shit, including two world wars.  
In a democracy, what doesn't kill you will make you stronger, and Pierce is atypically sanguine in believing Trump will get his just desserts:
This may be the administration that breaks the pattern for the first time since Nixon skulked off to San Clemente. Donald Trump's corruption is so sweeping that the sound of the confessions may well be deafening.  I don't think anyone worries about whether or not this presidency fails, since it began to fail just about from the moment the president*'s hand came off the Bible. . . . 
The crimes and misdemeanors are so grossly obvious that the elite terror of holding their friends accountable will not be a factor this time around.
Still, and as Pierce notes, Trump is the beneficiary of 40 years of constitutional negligence and cowardice just as were Nixon, Westmoreland, Abrams and the five lapel-pin patriots in the image atop this post -- Douglas Feith, David Addington, Alberto Gonzalez, George Bush and Dick Cheney, important players all in the embrace of torture and willful subjugation of the rule of law. 
As in, maybe Trump will resign if we promise not to prosecute him, which is a contemporary version of Agnew Lite since the disgraced veep never saw the inside of a prison cell.  
This is a test.  It is a test of our durability and mettle as a people.  The Blue Wave victories of November, Maximum Bob and Adam Schiff notwithstanding, our institutions of checks and balances have thus far failed us, and all the while the Lindsey Grahams and Roger Stones gin up outrageous claims of Trump being the target of a deep-state coup d'état as The Don packs federal appeals courts with right-wing zealots who will separate us from even more of the things that once made America great. 
Yes, this is a test. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Big Russia Scandal Riddles: Felix's Loyalties, Oleg's Jet & Oh So Much More

THE NEW YORK TIMES
“Why would there be?” ~ Vice President Pence’s reply when asked whether 
there had been any contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.
At this point, we probably know more about the Russia scandal than we don't.  That goes for Mike Pence, too.   
We know that at least 17 Donald Trump campaign officials and advisers had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks.   
We also know that six of those officials and advisers have been charged criminally by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 
We further know that prosecutors have obtained three sentencings, one conviction at trial, seven guilty pleas and charges for a total of 199 criminal counts. 
We suspect that despite fevered speculation to the contrary, Mueller is not wrapping up his 22-month probe and may be tying various investigative threads together to cement a conspiracy case.  
But the scandal is riddled with riddles, as would any criminal enterprise so vast and with so many actors.  Among the weightier riddles are these:
* The name of Felix Sater (photo, above) constantly pops up as Trump's former business partner, convicted stock swindler and sometime FBI informant with Russian mob ties who tried to get a Trump Tower Moscow deal and helped broker a Ukrainian "peace plan" in return for Trump lifting sanctions. 
Whose side is Sater on?  Will it turn out that for all of his bad behavior, he has been a secret ally of Mueller's?  
* Speaking of Putin, what does the Russian leader have on Trump?  Beyond the salacious if unproven Moscow Pee Tape allegation, there are suggestions that he has the president under his thumb because of a range of possibilities, including illegal financial dealings to hard evidence of his collusion. 
Is there an alternative explanation as to why Trump seems to be in Putin's thrall?  
* Putin pal Oleg Deripaksa's private jet arrived at Newark's Liberty International Airport shortly after midnight on August 3, 2016, hours after Paul Manafort and Rick Gates turned over sensitive campaign polling data to suspected Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik. 
Did Kilimnik travel on the oligarch's jet?  What did happen -- and does it matter? 
* Hillary Clinton lost the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes.  She would have won the Electoral College if relatively few Trump voters in these states who possibly were pinpoint targeted by Russian bots, had voted for her instead. 
From whom did the Russians glean the targeting information?  Was Cambridge Analytica involved?   
* There is a mysterious person mentioned in a document filed by prosecutors identified only as having a seven-character name who had dealings with former Trump campaign manager Manafort in regards to an aspect of the investigation that remains secret. 
Who is this person, and did Manafort lie about him in breeching his plea agreement to protect this key player? 
* Alfa Bank and Deutsche Bank may play roles in the scandal, Alfa because of suspicious interactions between its computer servers and a Trump server during the campaign and money-laundering Deutsche because it kept loaning tons of money to Trump when no other bank would give him a cent.   
Then there is the foreign state-owned mystery bank jousting with Mueller.  Is any of this bank stuff a big deal? 
* Mueller also is investigating the extent to which several Middle Eastern countries -- Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel -- sought to influence the Trump campaign and presidential transition to position themselves for insider access to the new administration. 
Will Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has commingled business dealings with those countries and his official duties, be indicted?
* Why was Mariia Butina being held in solitary confinement in the Alexandria (Va.) Detention Center and at one point was moved to a smaller and more meagerly equipped solitary cell?  Did she and boyfriend Paul Erickson direct money to the Trump campaign through the National Rifle Association? 
Might Butina and Erickson really be chumps and not a Russian spy and lover tandem as prosecutes allege in an arguably weak case?   
Despite all the convictions, indictments and charges, Mueller has yet to provide proof of a conspiracy or cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russians, let alone a hands-on role for the Obesity in Chief, but that could change when these riddles become clear.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Somali-American From Minnesota Takes On A Neocon From Nightmares Past

CNN
I have found the intensively covered natterings of the most vocal of freshman congressfolk, who happen to be Democratic women who rode the Blue Wave to upset victories, to be alternately boring and unhelpful.  Everywhere you turn, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is imparting pearls of her 29-year-old wisdom while Ilhan Omar busily digs holes with ill-advised remarks on Israel, immigration and other hot topics.  But as a weary if longtime observer of too many unnecessary American wars, Omar has earned my sincere thanks for calling out Elliott Abrams, a foreign-policy thug who still trods the halls of the Capitol thinking up new ways to kill young American men and women. 
There will be a special place in Hell for Abrams.  It's called the Neocon Corner, and other members past and mostly future include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Pearle, Paul Wolfowitz and Irving Kristol.  
In principle, there was never anything particularly wrong with the political movement known as neoconservatism, which after all was a reaction to failed policies of the 1960s and 1970s.  But neocons are especially dangerous as war hawks go because they labor under the illusion that they are God's chosen leaders in carrying out the doctrine of  American Exceptionalism.  You know, that God (there's that dude again!) created the U.S. to not only be the bestest nation, but to scold other nations about how to mind their affairs and meddle in those affairs, whether starting wars and imposing American-style democracy at point of gun or fomenting regime-toppling dissent with a large helping of human rights abuses. 
The neocon masterpiece was -- or should I say is -- the Iraq War (perhaps 400,000 dead, including nearly 4,000 Americans) because years since this carnage was officially over it continues to roil the Middle East, which plays into the hands of Iran, with whom neocons have been trying to start a war since forever.   
Then there was a nasty piece of work called Iran-Contra. 
This particular neocon excursion occurred during the second Reagan administration when Abrams and other senior White House officials put one over on the Gipper, who was in the process of losing what little mind he had, to secretly facilitate the sale of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo because of that American Embassy hostage messiness, with the intention of using the proceeds of the arms sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, to whom Congress had wisely prohibited arms sales.   
In the end, Abrams and 10 other administration officials were convicted for their law-breaking binge.  All were pardoned by President H.W. Bush. 
But you can't keep a good neocon down, and Abrams went on to hold a foreign policy position in the Dubya administration and now is Special Representative for Venezuela in the Trump administration, which is a great fit since Trump and Abrams never met a brutal foreign leader and human rights abuser they didn't like. 
That tailor-made role -- and fears that the White House is trying to foment a war in Venezuela over control of the nation's presidency -- is what brought Abrams before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a tigress by the name of Ilhan Omar, who confronted Abrams over Iran-Contra and his unwavering lifelong support of thugs abroad. 
In one of several tense exchanges during the Wednesday hearing, Omar recalled long-ago testimony from Abrams about a massacre in which units of El Salvador's U.S. trained and equipped military killed nearly 1,000 civilians in 1981 in the village of El Mozote under the approving eye of Reagan pal General Efraín Ríos Montt, who soon became president.   
Abrams, in effect, had called the massacre fake news and the Reagan administration's record in El Salvador a "fabulous achievement," never mind that Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013. 
OMAR: "Do you think that massacre was a 'fabulous achievement' that happened under our watch?" 
ABRAMS: "That is a ridiculous question, and I will not respond to it.  I am not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question."
And so it went as the hajib-wearing, far-left 37-year-old Somali-American politician from Minnesota took on the scowl-wearing, far-right 71-year-old neocon warmonger from Nightmares Past.
OMAR: "Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believe they serve the U.S. interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua?" 
ABRAMS: "I am not going to respond to that question." 
The emergence of a viable left wing in Democratic Party politics is being viewed with concern -- and sometimes panic -- by people who ought to know better if they have any knowledge of the sordid history of American foreign policy since World War II, most of it anyway.   
At home, the economy needs a massive rebalancing in favor of Main Street.  The same old pols aren't going to get that done, but maybe Omar, AOC and their hair-on-fire colleagues can get that ball rolling with radical but necessary income tax reforms.  Despite Republican hysterics to the contrary, we're not talking socialism here, only a long-overdue brake on runaway capitalism. 
I do wish Omar could have been a little more polite in taking on Abrams.  There's nothing wrong with good manners.  But he needed to be called out.  
Predictably, Omar got mostly negative reviews for what many old hands saw as impertinence.  Some called for her removal from the committee.  Yes, the same old hands who conveniently forget American misdeeds from not so long ago but roll over when the next imperialist folly comes along.          

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

(UPDATED) Perfidious Mitch McConnell Puts Another Notch In His Traitor's Belt

JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS
Mitch McConnell has emerged as a villain of immense consequence -- even Benedict Arnold comparisons fall short -- because of his refusal to sound the alarm when the extent of Russian election interference became known in 2016, to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and to be a check on a rogue president after eight years of playing obstructionist meanball with a good president.   And now he has outdone himself by being a rubber stamp for the Obesity in Chief's fake national emergency. 
Or as one pundit put it, the Senate majority leader has learned a new trick: Role over and play dead in the face of Trump's most insidious assault yet on the constitutional order. 
In one respect, McConnell is even worse than the president, who is an ignoramus when it comes to American history and a fatally clueless narcissist, while McConnell is deeply versed on that history, smart and clever, albeit like a fox.  He has calculated that his 38 percent approval rating, which is as lousy as Trump's, may threaten his chances of remaining the longest-serving Republican leader in Senate history and being reelected to a seventh term in 2020.  He is unpopular back home in Kentucky and ranks among the least popular senator in the country with his own constituents.  
McConnell has no personal investment in Trump and never has.  He probably hates Trump's guts, while his survival as a GOP majordomo is contingent on staying on the president's good side until his own power is seriously in jeopardy and he can pirouette away and break ranks.  Or Trump double crosses him.   
In any event, Trump needs McConnell more than McConnell needs Trump.  And screw the republic and the horse George Washington rode in on. 
While McConnell certainly is not compromised to the extent the Don is, he has had much to do with making over the GOP into a pro-Russian party.  He got a cool $2.5 million in the 2015-16 election season from Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard "Len" Blavatnik, an oligarch who is the business partner of Oleg Deripaska.   (Deripaska did about $60 million worth of business with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and controls three companies that the Trump administration has thoughtfully relieved of Obama administration-imposed sanctions.) 
Charles Pierce calls McConnell "the thief of the nation's soul," and while America's multiple political crises have a distinctively bipartisan stench that Democrats helped create, it is not possible to top his perfidy. 
As its first act in the new Congress, the new Democratic majority passed House Resolution 1, a massive anti-corruption measure aimed at restoring the credibility of American elections, safeguarding the right to vote that has come under steady Republican attack and outlawing partisan gerrymandering.  It also called for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, that most pernicious of Roberts Court decisions. 
McConnell's reaction to this forthright, clear-headed and long overdue clarion call for reform? 
"It's a power grab," opined the man for whom exercising power has long been an end unto itself. "Apparently the Democrats define 'democracy' as giving Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate and leaving citizens more vulnerable to public harassment over private views. . . . The bill goes so far as to suggest that the Constitution needs an amendment to override First Amendment protections." 
I would argue that McConnell, by virtue of flagrant violation of an oath of office he has taken six times and perpetual exploitation of his leadership role for power and profit, has done more to undermine democratic norms than even Trump.  
But nothing tops his rejoinder to Obama in September 2016 when he and Paul Ryan, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were invited to the Oval Office where Obama pleaded with them to forge a bipartisan alliance to fight back against Russian election interference and work with state and local election officials to thwart Election Day threats.  McConnell refused, telling the president that he was trying to politicize the matter and, if he went public with the interference, he would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Clinton, whose campaign at that very moment was being sabotaged by his Kremlin pals. 
The thief of the nation's soul, indeed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

(UPDATED) In Which We Go Deep Into The Twisted Saga Of Lyin' Paul Manafort

ALEXANDRIA (VA.) SHERIFFS OFFICE
We have established beyond a reasonable doubt -- and then some -- that former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will lie about anything at any time if he believes that is advantageous.  But what happens if his continued lying on Trump's behalf after signing a plea agreement in a bid to get a reduced prison sentence doesn't result in a presidential pardon?  Does he then walk back all of his lies to try to avoid spending the rest of his life in the big house? 
The answer to that question, just one of many surrounding this twisted saga, has some immediacy.  
In the words of one pundit, Manafort seemed to be Robert Mueller's "golden goose" because he was considered the key to unlocking the collusion puzzle for the special prosecutor as Trump's primary conduit to Russia.  That took a giant leap when Manafort, on the eve of his second trial, agreed to cooperate with Mueller. 
Manafort, the high-flying lobbyist in an ostrich skin jacket who fell to earth, has been confined to a lockup in Northern Virginia since June following witness tampering allegations, and his sentencing on one of two sets of charges against him is scheduled for March 13.  He faces a long prison sentence, or maybe a really long prison sentence now that it has been found he breached that plea agreement and Trump does not pardon him. 
Before we attempt to answer the pardon question, let's first unpack the case. 
Trump was one of the first clients retained by Manafort, Roger Stone and Charlie Black when they founded a lobbying business in 1980.  Spy magazine later was to name the firm the "sleaziest of all in the Beltway." 
In 2005, Manafort began a long business relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian with extensive Russian intelligence connections who has been indicted by Mueller.   
By 2016, Manafort had taken at least 14 trips to Moscow and his ties to the Kremlin through his Vladimir Putin-allied clients in Ukraine were extensive.  
In February 2016, Stone, who also has been indicted, recommended to Trump that he hire Manafort, who curiously offered to work for Trump's campaign for free although he was in dire financial straits, suggesting the possibility he already was working for Moscow in its nascent effort to interfere in the presidential election.  
On June 6, 2016, Manafort attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian cut-out promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and took contemporaneous notes later seized by FBI agents working for Mueller. 
On June 20, 2016, Manafort, who had been under FBI surveillance approved by the FISA Court, became Trump's campaign manager.  Two months later, he was dismissed after The Washington Post reported that he had been paid millions of dollars by a pro-Moscow Ukrainian political party.    
Manafort met with Kilimnik several times through 2016, including an August 2, 2016 meeting with Kilimnik and Manafort's associate Rick Gates, who has been indicted and is cooperating with Mueller, where Manafort reportedly shared detailed campaign polling data with Kilimnik. 
Meanwhile, in late July 2016, Christopher Steele wrote in a memo that became part of his infamous dossier that one of his sources reported that a "conspiracy of cooperation" between the campaign and Russia is "well-developed," and is "managed on the Trump side by . . . Manafort." 
On October 30, 2o17, Manafort and Gates were indicted for conspiring against the U.S. for money laundering and tax and foreign lobbying violations.  They entered not guilty pleas. 
On February 22, 2018, Manafort and Gates were additionally charged with lying to banks, Manafort by exaggerating his income to secure millions of dollars in cash loans as part of a decade-long $30 million money laundering scheme as political consultants in Ukraine.  Manafort pleaded not guilty. 
On June 8, 2018, Manafort and Kilimnik were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for tampering with potential witnesses against them. 
On August 21, 2018, Manafort was convicted by a jury on Northern Virginia of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose a foreign bank account.  A mistrial was declared on 10 other counts after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. 
On September 14, 2018, Manafort agreed to a plea deal under which he would cooperate with Mueller, plead guilty to two charges that were to be heard at his now short-circuited second trial and forfeit $26 million in assets. 
On November 26, 2018, Manafort's plea agreement was revoked after prosecutors said he had repeatedly lied.  It also was revealed that Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, was providing reports to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the scope of the questions prosecutors were asking Manafort under the plea agreement, providing the beleaguered Trump with inside information. 
On February 4, according to a transcript released later, Mueller's prosecutors stated at a closed hearing that they believed Manafort had continued to lie in the hopes of a pardon. 
Then on Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Manafort "intentionally" misled the special counsel, FBI and a grand jury about a range of topics at the heart of the scandal, including his interactions with Kilimnik and money that was routed through a pro-Trump political action committee to help pay his legal bills.    
Are you still with us?   
If so, you can grasp the multitude of paths the saga can take from here on out.  This includes yet another opportunity to debate the difference between collusion and conspiracy, whether there is indeed a difference, and whether Manafort's activities qualify for both or either.
Anyhow, my best guesses are that:
Trump will not pardon Manafort.  
This is because he already has sold out Trump and the further damage the president has suffered because of revelations in Mueller's so-called "speaking indictments." 
Manafort's co-equal Gates still is cooperating, and a pardon would cause an uproar at a time when Trump is on thin ice between the Russia scandal, myriad House Democratic investigations and eroding Republican support. 
Even if Manafort is pardoned, does it really matter since he likely will be hit with state-level charges in a New York minute?  (Pun intended.)    
And it is much too late for Manafort to walk back all of his lies to try to avoid a lengthy prison term. 
We'll know at Manafort's sentencing.  Or maybe not.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.