Paul Manafort, the former chair of Donald Trump’s campaign and now convicted felon, is poised to spend the rest of his life in jail, exactly as a federal judge originally predicted last year. Manafort, 69, had a shot at escaping that fate if he had remained faithful to his cooperating agreement with the special counsel’s office conducting the Russia probe. But telling the truth was just a little too much to ask of, well, anyone with deep ties to Trump, which means Manafort’s most realistic chance of not dying in jail rests in the hope of a presidential pardon.
The federal judge in the Manafort case found the special counsel’s office had proven three of its five claims against the defendant and that, indeed, he had “intentionally” lied to federal prosecutors. The most intriguing of those lies were about Manafort’s meetings both during and after the campaign with Russian-Ukrainian Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the special counsel has tied to Russian intelligence.
All of this makes Manafort an extraordinarily gifted liar. After being convicted of both bank and tax fraud, and pleading guilty to money laundering and attempted witnesses tampering, Manafort just went right ahead and lied to federal prosecutors about his contacts with a Russian spy. Impressive! No wonder special counsel Robert Mueller deemed a prison sentence of some 20-plus years appropriate.
But once again, we are left to wonder, why? What exactly was so important about his contacts with Kilimnik—indeed, so damning—that Manafort concluded it was better to lie to agents of the U.S. government and risk taking his last breath from the confines of a jail cell than to tell the truth.
It’s a conundrum reminiscent of the head-scratching lies Michael Flynn told FBI agents all the way back in early 2017 when he was still Trump’s national security adviser. Why—when Flynn was well aware the FBI likely knew about his phone calls with Russian Ambassador Surgey Kislyak—did he proceed to lie to them anyway? What exactly was the calculation that went through his head when the FBI officials interviewing him were telegraphing that they totally knew about his Kislyak calls?
Of course, the lies don’t stop there. Along with Manafort and Flynn, there’s former Trump lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen; his deputy campaign manager and inaugural committee official Rick Gates; his foreign policy adviser/coffee boy George Papadopoulos—and those are just the convicted. There’s also former campaign adviser and resigned Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who lied to Congress about his Russian contacts; longtime Trump confidant and former campaign adviser Roger Stone, who’s charged with lying about his pursuit of the Clinton campaign’s hacked emails; and Trump son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, who updated his security clearance application after making more than 100 omissions, and yet still left out the contacts from the Trump Tower meeting. Oops. Then there’s what might be considered lesser transgressors, like former White House communications director Hope Hicks, who told self-admitted “white lies” (and maybe some bigger ones about hush money payments and Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting) and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who lied about Trump’s role in generating a misleading statement regarding the Trump Tower meeting. Sanders, it was revealed this week, was questioned last fall by Mueller’s team around the same time as fellow serial-though-not-criminal liar, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Trump is apparently congenitally incapable of hiring people who don’t lie. And for someone who has repeatedly and urgently insisted that there was “no collusion,” he sure has acted like a guilty man from Day One. So guilty, in fact, that the FBI opened a counter-intelligence investigation into him in the early days of his administration—we still don’t know where that stands. But here’s a very brief recap of Trump’s suspicious activity: He fired the first man in charge of the Russia probe after urging him to let Flynn’s lies go; he harped on Attorney General Sessions and complained bitterly about his repeated failures to shut down the probe; he installed an acting attorney general who had publicly skewered the investigation and then he appointed a replacement who questioned the scope of the probe and whether the full Mueller report should even be released to Congress or otherwise; he dictated a misleading public statement about his campaign chiefs’ 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian government delegation; he has refused time and again to release his taxes; and he has worked to repeatedly keep any trace of the contents of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin away from aides and out of public view.
Why? Why all the lies? Why the concerted coverup by Trump and his minions about all things Russian? Apparently some lawmakers are starting to get almost as frustrated as much of the American public is about the lack of answers and what it means to have an entire organism of deception at the helm of our country. Finally, a U.S. Senator took to the Senate floor this week to enter those nagging doubts into the congressional record.
“Many of us have grappled with a very difficult question about our president,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Thursday. “It’s a question that never before could we even imagine thinking about an American president, let alone saying it out loud on the floor of the Senate. I’m talking about the entirely legitimate question of whether Donald Trump could be compromised by the Russian government.”
Menendez observed that Americans across the country are lying awake at night asking, “What does Putin have on our president?”
It’s a question Trump and his coterie of lying liars are clearly never going to answer unless they are forced to by the long arm of the law—and maybe not even then.