By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, we discovered why Special Counsel Robert Mueller delayed the sentencing hearing for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Mueller wanted to give Manafort every opportunity to fully comply with his plea deal. Apparently, the jailed felon couldn’t or wouldn’t fully cooperate with prosecutors. Now, he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. I’ll get to the speculation surrounding this development in a moment, but first an important news story regarding the Manafort case broke today.
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told.
Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 — during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House.
It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
This news gets right to the heart of why Mueller declared in court that Manafort didn’t fully cooperate. In order to convince the judge that Manafort had lied about the information he shared with federal prosecutors as part of his plea deal, Mueller would have to prove that the information was false. The only way he could do that is by providing verifiable evidence which contradicted Manafort’s statements. In other words, Mueller would already have obtained at least some of the facts pertaining to possible collusion between the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and the Russians, during the 2016 presidential election.
WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, repeatedly lied to federal investigators in breach of a plea agreement he signed two months ago, the special counsel’s office said in a court filing late on Monday.
Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve them of all promises they made to him in the plea agreement. But under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea.
But given the impasse between the two sides, they asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to set a sentencing date for Mr. Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement in a detention center in Alexandria, Va.
The 11th-hour development in Mr. Manafort’s case is a fresh sign of the special counsel’s aggressive approach in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone in the Trump campaign knew about or assisted Moscow’s effort.
Striking a plea deal with Mr. Manafort in September potentially gave prosecutors access to information that could prove useful to their investigation. But their filing on Monday, a rare step in a plea deal, suggested that they thought Mr. Manafort was withholding details that could be pertinent to the Russia inquiry or other cases.
Now, let’s get to the speculation.
It has been known since his August 2018 conviction in the Virginia trial that Manafort’s legal defense has ruined his family’s finances. Therefore, his plea deal in the D.C. case was first and foremost an attempt to preserve some of his family’s wealth. Also, since his conviction meant a long prison sentence for the 69 year old, Manafort was highly motivated to cut a deal to reduce it.
Considering Manafort’s long history of working for shady characters, the actual truth of his actions might be difficult for him to grasp. If he is so psychologically impaired, then this would explain his assertion that he did fully comply with the plea deal. It would also define him as an incompetent witness in the eyes of prosecutors and the court. If he is not so psychologically impaired, then Manafort might’ve simply thought he could outsmart Mueller.
Another possibility is that Manafort might have received assurances from the Trump White House that he would be pardoned. However, that isn’t as straightforward as it appears. Such communication would constitute an obstruction of justice against the Mueller investigation; and, it would not protect Manafort from state prosecution nor would it prevent him from being retried on the unresolved charges from the Virginia case.
Lastly, it is possible that Manafort fears something even worse than a life behind bars – that Russian agents working for Vladimir Putin might come after him or his family. If I was Manafort, such a worry would certainly be on my mind. If it was legally proved that collusion or conspiracy did occur in the 2016 election, it would be as politically damaging to Putin as it would be to Trump.