BipHoo Company / Flickr Mueller wants to hear from Trump...
BipHoo Company / Flickr

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accused Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort of breaching his plea deal by repeatedly lying to investigators after agreeing to provide information in exchange for a reduced sentence. This positions Manafort to face higher penalties for his original charges and additional penalties based on misleading the investigation in the weeks since he made his plea. It also opens the possibility that Donald Trump will pardon Manafort—a possibility that was underlined by Trump’s actions over the last day. Put together, there’s a real sense that this was the intention all along: Send in Manafort to distract and mislead the investigation with Trump holding out the promise of a Get Away With It All deal should his campaign manager be caught.

But there’s more to it then just Manafort being unable to find the off button on his lies. The way this is playing out suggests there’s another angle: One in which Manafort and Trump were together all along in hopes of upsetting the special counsel investigation. Except this dirty trick may be backfiring.

According to the New York Times, Robert Mueller’s team was in court on Monday to report that Manafort’s “crimes and lies” on a number of topics means that his plea deal is void. All except the guilty plea. Because the way the deal was made, Manafort is not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. In fact, Manafort testified to his guilt, in court, in a prolonged statement made before a judge on the day the plea was signed.

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.

Everything about the Manafort deal seems to scream that Manafort meant to lie from the outset. It also seems to show that Mueller knew Manafort was likely to be less than honest when he agreed to a deal. Because of course he was. Paul Manafort’s entire life consists of lying, cheating, and getting away with it. From his time as an official “dirty trickster” with Roger Stone, to his role as “the torturer’s lobbyist,” right through his seamless transition in to tumbling governments for profit, Manafort hasn’t just lied, cheated, and stolen, he’s come out smelling like—whatever an ostrich-skin vest smells like. In the midst of helping dictators and selling democracy down the river, Manafort was brought back again and again to chair Republican conventions and campaigns. Why shouldn’t he expect it would work again?

And Trump’s fresh round of tweets and statements against Robert Mueller may show that Manafort’s deal wasn’t only with Mueller. In a series of tweets on Tuesday morning, Trump did not mention Manafort directly, but railed repeatedly against how the special counsel investigation “ruins lives.” Before insisting they should be ruining someone else’s life.

The way in which this came down suggests that, from the beginning, Manafort made his plea not in an effort to reduce his sentence, but as a way to curry favor with Trump.

Rather than face a series of charges in federal court that repeatedly trotted out his association with Russia and the rather clumsy schemes to launder money through real estate transactions—both of which served as a tutorial on what to expect should Mueller actually delve into Trump’s business dealings—Manafort may have taken a proposal to the the Tweeter in Chief.

Here’s how that might have gone:

  1. Manafort agrees to a plea deal, promising to tell all. However, what Manafort tells doesn’t just stop short of “all,” it includes deliberate lies and omissions.
  2. In addition to giving Mueller a sanitized version of events, Manafort reports back to Trump on what the investigation is asking him, providing invaluable prep as Trump determines his own actions.
  3. At the same time, Donald Trump is preparing to answer a set of written questions from Robert Mueller’s team. He delays and delays on providing these answers because … because he’s waiting for his inside man to reassure him that the special counsel has swallowed the “official” version of what happened hook, line, and sinker.
  4. Reassured by Manafort that he has sold Mueller’s team on a carefully edited version of the “truth,” Trump turns in his homework.
  5. And it’s only after Mueller has Trump’s answers in hand that he marches Manafort back into court and reveals that he knew the campaign manager was lying all along. Now Mueller doesn’t just have Manafort on record lying, he has written proof that Manafort and Trump were conspiring again to deceive and misdirect the investigation.

In fact, if Trump and Manafort were working together to sell a story to Mueller’s team, it could not only represent the best example of Trump’s willingness to lie to avoid responsibility, it could be a definitive example how his lies never end.

Paul Manafort’s entire lifestyle of having his name clipped into his lawn and having a Mercedes delivered to one of his many homes with the frequency that most people buy milk was based on the idea that he could always find a bigger lie to sell. In this case, it seems he tried to sell it to Robert Mueller. But the person left paying the bill could be Donald Trump.

Maybe this version gives Mueller too much credit. Maybe there was no scheme between Trump and Manafort. But it certainly looks at this point as if Robert Mueller opened up a door marked “one last chance to demonstrate who you are” and both Trump and Manafort hurried in.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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