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Unspinning the Manafort Matters

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 29, 2018

It sounds as if it is open season on Paul Manafort, international political fixer and Trump campaign chairman through the 2016 Republican National Convention, who has been found guilty on a series of tax, banking, and financial frauds after investigation by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller.

At base, what we know is that Manafort has been found to have abridged his pledge to cooperate with the special counsel’s office, and now will face years of jail time for lying on a variety of matters of substance to the FBI and the special counsel.

Beyond that, there are a fistful of other new developments involving Manafort, some of which are better grounded than others. Nevertheless, that does nothing to stop cable television for opining morning, noon and night on all aspects of new allegations against Manafort.

The only thing we know for sure is that Trump would have been better off with a different campaign manager than Manafort — an opinion he eventually shared — because Manafort has been rolling around in a zillion ethically-challenged situations around the globe, and that Manafort is going to jail for impeccably detailed financial frauds that preceded his work for the Trump campaign. I certainly wouldn’t have hired him to represent me, not that I am a candidate for president.

Now if we all could just hang on patiently until Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III files his reasons for pulling the plea deal with Manafort, we could be having this conversation based on fact. But we are too impatient — on all sides of the aisle — and committed only to wanting to spin the latest headlines for partisan advantage.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve taken away from the various cross-currents:

· The New York Times said Manafort’s lawyers have been sharing information about Manafort’s questioning and responses with President Donald Trump’s lawyers, raising credibility issues about the written answers that Trump provided to the special counsel this week, and raising real questions of whether Manafort is angling for a presidential pardon in return. If true, this would be significant: Trump’s written responses to the special counsel, for example, might reflect Manafort’s information, and if they were lies, according to Mueller, well, it stands to reason that aligning the presidential answers with Manafort’s might produce a repeat of some of those lies.

Let’s remember, Mueller has the emails and documents to back up what he knows. It is said that Manafort may have pretended to cooperate to pass information to the Trump team in hopes for a pardon. Grant of a pardon would strengthen the idea of an obstruction of justice charge against the president; the idea of the lawyers all colluding might support a new case of the president’s team seeking to influence a witness. In any case, none of this is good for Donald Trump. The existence of a joint agreement between lawyers for Manafort and the president is highly unusual once one party — Manafort in this case — since at that point, lawyers do not share the same goal. Instead, Manafort’s leaks of questions show a roadmap for the president. As I understand it, those lawyers — including Rudy Giuiliani — could face charges since their communication is not protected.

· The Guardian, a British paper, said Manafort and Julian Assange, the embattled head of Wikileaks, met at least three times in and around the time that Wikileaks started releasing emails stolen from the Hillary Clinton campaign. This would be significant as evidence of actual “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Wikleaks. On its face, it has seemed to stretch credulity to know that a mere hour passed between disclosure of the Hollywood tape and the release by Wikileaks of Hillary Clinton campaign e-mails. Both Manafort and Assange said this was fiction, and others noted that the sourcing for the story was weak. But it is the first emergence of an actual meeting that might be defined under the word “collusion.”

· Also wrapped up in the contacts with Wikileaks this week have been Jerome Corsi, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and associate of Trump adviser Roger Stone, has suggested that he had declined to accept plea deals with the special counsel. Stone has been identified as a person of interest in the investigation, but has yet to be charged. Nevertheless, President Trump has leveled his tweet gun again, saying without evidence on Wednesday that Mueller and his team are bullying witnesses into lying about collusion in order to be spared punishment,marking the president’s latest attempt to discredit the Russia probe. “At least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief,” said the president. It is clear that Mueller wants to nail down who in the Trump orbit may have coordinated with Assange, if at all.

· CNNreported that Trump told the special counsel in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

· In any event, it seems factual that Manafort did lie to the FBI and that Mueller’s team caught him at it. Beyond that, there is mere speculation about the reasons for doing so. At the same time that all of this has been swirling about Manafort, Trump has ramped up his criticisms for the Mueller investigation altogether.

An op-ed article written by Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant direction, said that Manafort suddenly folded before the start of a second traial, and agreed to terms with Mueller.Now we learn that his cooperation was squirrelly and incomplete, a series of that infuriated the prosecutors and now is unlikely to ever leave prison absent a pardon from President Trump.

Either Manafort is asking Trump indirectly for a pardon, or, as some pundits suggest, Manafort is refusing to talk about other financial misdeeds and angering shady Russian operatives who might retaliate against his family.

So, I’m left thinking that Mueller is the only one of the bunch who is actually doing his job in a straightaway manner (and not talking about it), but is now reporting to Atty. Gen. Matthew G. Whitaker, who opposes the Mueller investigation.

A lot of this feels like posturing. We shouldn’t go too far in trusting much of anything in this case without seeing the final report.


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