The Manafort Mystery
So Paul Manafort has managed to void his cooperation agreement with Robert Mueller by continuing to lie to the Special Counsel. This is a guy who had already been caught trying to witness tamper in his earlier trial and had his bail accordingly revoked so I guess it should not come as a surprise that he would still try to get away with lying to Mueller. So, while it may not be a surprise, it remains unclear what his motivation might be.
Since Manafort is clearly still in hock to his criminal Russian partners, one obvious rationale for his actions would be that he knows telling the truth is most likely to get him or his family seriously injured. On the other hand, as Whitey Bulger found out, spending double digit years in prison is not necessarily a way to stay safe.
Alternatively, it may not be a coincidence that Jerome Corsi’s plea negotiations also seem to have fallen apart at this same exact time. That lends credence to the theory that Trump has dangled the possibility of pardons to protect himself and his family. Manafort, of course, probably poses an existential threat to Trump because of his position as campaign manager and his close personal interaction with the President. Besides his immediate family, Roger Stone is Trump’s other potential existential threat and protecting Corsi, who is basically a flunky, although perhaps a knowledgeable one, is a way to protect Stone. But even Trump’s pardon won’t protect Manafort, Corsi, and Stone from potential state charges, with Manafort almost certain to be charged.
While it may take time to discern Manafort’s reasoning, if ever, it is also unclear what kind of impact this will have on Mueller’s investigation. One take is that this is a pretty clear blow to his investigation. Evidence that Mueller had hoped to obtain from Mueller is now not available and any evidence he has gleaned from Manafort, including conversations with Trump and his family, will be tainted by the fact that he is a liar and may not be admissible in court. However, that may not be as bad as it initially sounds, because the case against Trump will not be a legal proceeding but a political one where it is more than likely that evidence will emerge.
In addition, Mueller must have enough proof that Manafort is actually lying in order for him to make the filing to void the plea agreement on such grounds. That implies that Mueller already has the evidence and Manafort would merely be another corroborating witness to it. That does not negate the possibility that there is evidence that Mueller got solely from Manafort but it clearly indicates that he certainly had more than Manafort thought he did.
All of which brings us to the most interesting theory of all from Marcy Wheeler over at Emptywheel, namely that Mueller continued to let Manafort lie to him in order to entrap others, including Trump. Rudy Giuliani has always maintained that Manafort’s legal team was still sharing information with the President’s legal team all during his period of “cooperation”. If the Trump team believed that Mueller was swallowing Manafort’s lies, then that would color their answers to Mueller in Trump’s open book test. Now that Mueller has Trump’s answers, he has no reason to continue to let Manafort lie.
Mueller will be detailing all the instances where Manafort lied in a subsequent filing at his sentencing. As Wheeler suggests, the filing will essentially be Mueller’s report, outlining all the areas where Manafort and perhaps Trump have lied. “There’s your Mueller report, which will be provided in a form that Matt Whitaker won’t be able to suppress”. You can hear the screams of “perjury trap” already from Giuliani and others.
Who knows, perhaps Manafort has engaged in criminal behavior for so long he, like Trump, just can’t stop himself and had no rationale reason for continuing to lie to Mueller. But it certainly seems clear we will have a lot more answers to so many questions sooner rather than later and you can already see Trump feeling the pressure.