There have been two (and perhaps three) major stories on the Paul Manafort case this week, and if you haven’t been keeping up with the details, here’s a short explainer on why it’s potentially good and bad news for the Mueller probe.
A couple of months ago, Paul Manafort struck a plea deal with Mueller’s probe in which he basically offered to cooperate with the inquiry in exchange for a more lenient sentence. At the time — before the plea — the lawyers for Paul Manafort and the White House had an agreement in which they agreed to exchange information, which made sense because they had common interests (namely, some of what Mueller had on Manafort could also hurt Trump). When they reached the plea agreement, the cooperation between the White House and Paul Manafort was expected to stop on account of the fact that Paul Manafort was basically informing on the White House.
However, Paul Manafort’s lawyers never stopped speaking to the White House lawyers (like Rudy Giuliani). In other words, while Manafort was cooperating with Mueller, he was still briefing the White House on the questions he was being asked, which is highly unusual and unethical (though, not illegal). Basically, it’d be like if Stringer Bell decided to inform on Avon Barksdale but continued to work with Avon Barksdale the entire time. In this situation, there is no way to trust anything that Stringer Bell is telling the prosecution because his interests are clearly still aligned with Barksdale’s interests. Stringer Bell is just using the plea agreement to gain more information about the case against Barksdale.
The difference between Stringer Bell and Paul Manafort, however, is that when Stringer Bell gets caught, they’d take the plea deal away and throw him in the slammer. That’s exactly what Mueller is trying to do to Manafort, except that Manafort is basically depending on Trump to bail him out with a pardon, and because Manafort has been feeding Trump information about the probe, Trump has all the more reason to grant it.
Trump has been tweeting about how Mueller has gone “rogue” and he’s treating the witnesses “unfairly,” and I think most of us believed that Trump was getting intel about the probe from his acting AG, Matt Whitaker, but it turns out, he was getting that information from Manafort himself.
The bad news here is that Manafort, as a source, has been burned. He’s useless to the prosecution because he is so clearly lying to Mueller to protect Trump. He’s lost all credibility as a witness, and Mueller knows that Manafort can lie all he wants because he has no incentive to tell the truth because he expects to be pardoned.
However, there must be a reason that Manafort is protecting Trump — there’s clearly something there that could screw Trump if Mueller found out. It’s up to Mueller, however, to figure out what that is — and the Assange/Manafort connection may be the smoking gun —- without the aid of Manafort himself.
There are a couple of other issues at play here, too. Manafort is going to prison, and Trump is not likely to pardon him at least until the Mueller probe is over. It will hurt Trump politically, and Trump is not exactly trustworthy, so there’s a chance — now that Manafort is useless to Mueller — that Trump lets him rot in prison, because Trump is loyal to no one but himself. However, even if he is pardoned, Mueller has set up an agreement with the courts so that, in the event of a pardon, Manafort loses all his assets and properties, so if he gets out of prison, he’s still gonna be a broke bitch.
The other kind of interesting development here is that Mueller can now circumvent acting AG Whitaker, in a way. When Mueller finally finishes his report, at this point, it will be up to fierce Trump loyalist Whitaker as to whether to make that report public. We know how that’s going to go (thankfully, the Dems in the House may be able to do something about it). However, Mueller may also be able to include a lot of details about the Manafort/Trump situation and all the lies that Manafort has told in his sentencing agreement, which will be made public. It’s a way to make at least part of the report public without relying on the Attorney General’s office to make the decision.
In other words, Mueller may have lost his Queen, but he’s still got an Ace in the hole.