Thursday, November 29, 2018

Update On A Scandal: Why The Manafort Cloud Has A Silver Lining For Mueller


Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it. ~ JONATHAN SWIFT 
There has been much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in the wake of the news that Paul Manafort continued to lie after striking an agreement with Robert Mueller to cooperate -- an perhaps be the key witness -- in the special prosecutor's quest to nail down collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. 
To which I say, "so what?" 
Yes, it is unfortunate that Mueller encountered a bump in the road to Truth and Justice, but what is surprising is that there have been relatively few Manafort-like bumps considering the road is potholed with contemporary versions of the very kind of reprobates the great Anglo-Irish satirist Swift wrote about over three hundred years ago. You know, Trump and his family and friends.   
As it turns out, Mueller's seeming misfortune has a big, fat silver lining that may demolish the lie that the Trump campaign did not collude and that even if it did, then-candidate Trump was out of the loop and therefore can be of no help to the special prosecutor and his "witch hunt."
The are three aspects to that silver lining, which was first articulated to me by colleague-friend Brad Scharlott, who is a retired academic, before the scent was picked up by mainstream media legal eagles and pundits.   
The first aspect:
Trump's former campaign manager had lied to banks and the IRS, and after Mueller busted him, urged witnesses to lie about his phony front companies.  It is apparent he planned to keep lying and never intended to cooperate with the special counsel.  
There has to be something Manafort expected in return for reneging on his plea agreement, possibly the promise of a presidential pardon.  But it could simply be that it was too late in the game for Paulie to go straight, he'd already been stripped of millions of dollars in assets, including that $15,000 ostrich jacket, and he may simply have wanted to get back at Mueller for destroying his platinum lifestyle, but with a flourish.
Here's the second aspect to the silver lining, flourish explained:
Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, agreed to a scheme whereby he would provide reports to Trump criminal defense lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the scope of the questions Mueller's prosecutors were asking Manafort under the plea agreement, thereby providing the beleaguered Trump with inside information that would help him fudge the answers to the written questions Mueller had submitted to him after a year of negotiations. 
How do we know this is true? 
Because Giuliani has more or less admitted there was a quid pro quo in the form of the continuation of a joint defense agreement between Downing and Trump's lawyers that, by all rights and legal ethical standards, should have been terminated when Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller.   
And because this explains, in retrospect, why Trump did not go ballistic when Manafort "flipped" in mid-September as the president did when Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors a few weeks earlier.  (As part of a new plea deal with Mueller, Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to making a false statement to Congress about his contacts with Russia during the campaign regarding a Trump hotel project in Moscow.) 
And here's the third aspect to the silver lining, the payoff for Mueller:
Yet again, Trump tripped himself up in thinking he was the smartest guy in the room.  But Mueller was smarter.   
Mueller didn't need Manafort to answer key questions pertaining to Trump's involvement in collusion such as whether he knew about and greenlighted the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where the campaign was promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.  (Then there is the matter of who in the campaign interacted with WikiLeaks.)  The special counsel may already have had answers to those questions and led Manafort to think he had duped him until it came time to lower the boom and withdraw the plea agreement.   
Trump was duped, as well.  He delayed submitting his answers to Mueller's questions until Downing reported back.  When Trump did submit his answers, he lied about the Trump Tower meeting and perhaps Wikileaks, based on Downing's reports.  And so the president has now been trapped by Mueller, who might be emboldened to subpoena him to appear before his grand jury, but more likely will lay out Trump's involvement in collusion in his sentencing report on Manafort, which could come as early as Friday, when a hearing has been scheduled on Manafort's status. 
Meanwhile, Downing and Giuliani are in the deepest of ethical (and perhaps criminal) do-do.  It's unlikely Mueller will let that pass.  And Trump, whose "deal" with Downing is an open-and-shut case of witness tampering, is busily dangling pardon bait for Manafort in brazenly thumbing his nose at Mueller while accusing him of trying to force three key scandal players -- Manafort and Wikileaks playmates Roger Stone and associate Jerome Corsi -- to lie or go to jail.   
But the bottom line is that if Mueller didn't reveal to Manafort -- and indirectly Downing, of course -- what evidence he had proving Manafort was lying as the post-plea agreement meetings played out, and there is no reason so shrewd an operator would have, both Manafort and Trump believed they could still get away with lying, which Trump cavalierly did in his sworn answers to Mueller's questions. 
The special counsel can now make Trump's falsifications public in his sentencing report, which guess what? Acting Attorney General and Trump poodle Matt Whitaker cannot block or otherwise obstruct. 
Helluva silver lining, eh?

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


Bscharlott said...

WSJ reporting implies the provably false lies Manafort told do not relate directly to Russian election interference but rather his earlier business dealings in Ukraine. If so, maybe Mueller realized Manafort was stonewalling on the Russian stuff, but not being able to prove that chose to nail him for other lies. The question of whether Manafort has effectively been promised a pardon is intriguing. Nobody is dumb enough to put that in writing. But surely Manafort recognizes that Trump could double-cross on a promise. Trump must realize that pardoning Manafort would be seen (rightly) as obstruction and would likely kill any hope of re-election. Then again, maybe Trump's top concern is simply staying out of jail once he is out of office.

Patrice Manget said...

Set, game ... match? 😊 Good job, Shaun.

Dan Leo said...

So damn confusing! Thanks for continuing to add some clarity to it all, Shaun.

Bscharlott said...

Jed Shugerman, law professor, Fordham University:

"If I were Trump’s lawyers or Manafort’s lawyers, I would be especially worried now about a pardon or assisting with a pardon, because I could face a subpoena without being able to invoke privilege. I could face disbarment, indictment, and potentially prison. That’s what happened to some of Nixon’s lawyers, including two of his attorneys general.

"Matthew Whitaker, Manafort’s lawyers, and Trump’s lawyers, including his White House counsel, should be especially careful. They would be wiser to quit, resign, and maybe cooperate if they participated in any criminal conspiracy."

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