|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.
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and related developments.