Cooperation between Trump and Manafort demonstrates extraordinary disdain for legal process

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CBC News / YouTube Trump news conference following midterm elections 1541799487.jpg...
CBC News / YouTube

As must have been obvious to Robert Mueller from the beginning, Paul Manafort’s agreement to a plea deal wasn’t so much an effort to reduce his sentence through negotiation, as an attempt to ensure a Trump pardon by acting as an inside man for Trump’s own legal team. And, as usual, it was Rudy Giuliani who was out front on Tuesday with the casual disregard for legal precedent.

Giuliani: They share with me the things that pertain to our part of the case.

That’s Giuliani confessing that a man who had signed a cooperative plea agreement with the special counsel, was, in fact, passing along to the Trump team what he had told Robert Mueller and what questions he was being asked. Giuliani tried to pass this off as just something “defense attorneys do.” Except it’s not. Even for co-defendants represented by different attorneys in the same case, the idea that the legal teams would continue to exchange information after one defendant has agreed to a plea deal is a ludicrous position.

Legal teams may share information in a trial. However, if one defendant decides to turn state’s evidence, that team withdraws from cooperation with other lawyers for other defendants for a simple reason—continuing to pass along that information almost certainly puts them in immediate breach of the deal they just made with prosecution, not just removing their client from any benefits gained through negotiation, but subjecting them to greater penalties and possible additional charges. In providing information to Trump’s team, Manafort was deliberately undermining the government’s case after signing an agreement to assist the government. Even if everything Manafort had told the special counsel was the truth, this alone would likely provide the basis for charges of conspiracy to defraud the government.

But that’s not all. In addition to acting as a mole for Trump, Manafort has been lying. The nature of his lying isn’t clear. The easiest thing to believe is that Manafort has been passing along to Mueller a pure-as-driven-snow version of the Trump campaign in which he knew nothing, Trump knew nothing, and every instance of Russian action was beyond their ken.

Alternatively, Manafort might have been loudly proclaiming his own guilt, painting himself as the mastermind pulling the wool over the eyes of an ignorant candidate. Because … why not? Given that Manafort knew his actions were certain to result in a collapse of his deal with the special counsel, it seems clear that he was intent on his other deal—the one to secure a pardon from Trump.

The first sign that someone is going to sign a cooperative deal with prosecutors is often when that legal team makes an explicit break from others involved in the case. For example, as the New York Times reported, a November 2017 split between lawyers for Michael Flynn and lawyers for Donald Trump preceded Flynn’s agreement that he would cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, notified the president’s legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel’s investigation, according to four people involved in the case — an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating a deal.

But Manafort’s team didn’t break things off with Trump—because Manafort was working for Trump. Giuliani admitted as much when he stated that Manafort’s lawyers had continued to share information about the investigation with Trump’s team.

As Politico reported at the time, Giuliani declared himself “unconcerned” about a plea agreement between Manafort and Mueller.

Giuliani: There’s no fear that Paul Manafort would cooperate against the president because there’s nothing to cooperate about and we long ago evaluated him as an honorable man.

From the outset, Giuliani was convinced that Manafort “would not cooperate” against Trump. And from the outset, he was already talking about the potential of Manafort being pardoned.

A month earlier, as Manafort was facing the results of his first trial, Trump had dangled his invitation.

Manafort bit. Facing what was sure to be multiple years in prison even with the plea agreement, Trump’s campaign chair went for the sure thing—a full pardon from Trump. And while it may be comforting to think that Manafort will immediately face state charges if Trump clears his slate, Manafort can almost certainly shed his orange jumpsuit and rest comfortably at home while his lawyers bring up double-jeopardy objections for years. There’s also the very real possibility that anyone wanting to prosecute Paul Manafort will first have to see him extradited from Cyprus, or Russia, or from his adjoining suite at the Ecuadorian embassy.

Considering the behavior of George Papadapoulos post-testimony, it seems clear that Manafort isn’t the only person to have received a “turn informer for me, and get a pardon” offer from Trump. It would be surprising if Michael Flynn—surely the person who had the greatest “potential charges” to “actual charges” ratio—wasn’t also facing pressure to reveal the nature of his discussions with Mueller in exchange for a pat on the back and maybe a fresh spot on Team Trump.

Since Trump pushed Sessions out the door and set Matthew Whitaker in charge of both of the DOJ and the Mueller investigation, it’s clear that he’s been getting reports on the progress of the investigation from that direction. With moles like Manafort acting from inside the investigation, Trump also has a good knowledge of what’s being asked—and was also in a position to shape the lies that Manafort fed back to the special counsel. And the only good sign out of all of this is that increasing knowledge of the investigation has led Trump to make more and more angry, desperate statements about Mueller, his team, and the direction of their inquiries.

There’s also the matter of the homework—the written responses to Mueller that Trump prepared and submitted just days before the special counsel came forward to demonstrate that he knew Manafort had been lying to him. The fact that Trump’s team and Manafort were cooperating behind the scenes may mean that Trump was able to scrub the homework and eliminate answers that duplicated lies provided by Manafort. Or Trump might have been unaware that Mueller was on to Manafort, and used his lies as the basis of his own responses. Either way, Manafort is screwed. Whether it also forms the basis for new conspiracy charges that could be leveled at Trump and others … we don’t know yet.

If, as reported on Tuesday by The Guardian, Paul Manafort did, in fact, visit with Julian Assange at the same time that he was positioning himself in the Trump campaign and Russia was initiating its hacking campaign, it seems extraordinarily likely that Manafort was the linchpin of the whole Russia plan. He was either the author of the scheme or its chief executioner. And it seems equally likely that in carrying out this plan he had the cooperation of Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi.

As NBC News reports, Corsi authored a series of emails which were obtained by the Mueller investigation. These emails suggested that Corsi was in communication with WikiLeaks and had inside knowledge of the information held by that organization when it would be released, and the pressure it would apply to various parties. But truthfully, Corsi’s emails appear to be no more specific about his knowledge than public statements already made by Stone. The most extraordinary thing about Corsi’s story isn’t that he had a connection to WikiLeaks and was feeding information to others. It’s that he’s willing to openly reject a plea deal that would have resulted in nothing but probation and to publish the details of his plea deal in public.

The actions of Giuliani, Manafort, Corsi, and others all represent the same picture—an absolute disdain for the legal process. If Trump’s legal team were sending up a skywriting team to etch “Above the Law” in the air above the White House, their message could not be more clear.

Trump has promised to not just provide absolution to any member of his staff who is willing to defy Mueller, he’s actively rewarding them for interfering in the investigation. That’s a level of corruption that may have been genuinely unanticipated in the rules for the Justice Department and the special counsel law.

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Markm Mitchell
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Markm Mitchell

Excellent article – fully agreed.