On Friday, twenty members of Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s team walked into a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C. with Paul Manafort. The attorney who the New York Times described as “Mueller’s Legal Pit Bull” spent thirty minutes detailing the charges against Manafort, who pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges and signed a cooperation agreement with the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO). This agreement requires Manafort to give interviews and briefings to the SCO, turn over any documents he has to them, and testify in other proceedings on their behalf. We’ll get into that.
Manafort was indicted alongside his business partner Rick Gates a few times, most recently in February 2018, and while Gates began cooperating almost immediately thereafter, Manafort held out for more than six months. The SCO piled dozens of charges on him—successfully convicting him of eight felonies in a Virginia federal court—and was days away from prosecuting the second trial by the time Manafort pleaded guilty.
This is huge, right?
Yeah, this seems pretty huge. We don’t know exactly what the SCO is thinking, but they’ve put a lot of effort to get Manafort to flip. That suggests they think Manafort has lots of information that would be helpful to the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election. And if you read the plea agreement Manafort just signed, he seems to believe he has some pretty valuable information, too. It’s not impossible that both parties are mistaken about what the other thinks. This sort of thing happens sometimes.
But I’m gonna Occam’s Razor this one: Manafort, the shadowy political operative for pro-Russian interests and whose top lieutenant was “Kostya from the GRU” and who owed millions of dollars to Bad Dudes In Russia, joined the Trump campaign within days of the GRU beginning its spearphishing campaign of the Clinton campaign. Manafort is later promoted to chairman of the Trump campaign two weeks after the infamous Trump Tower Meeting With All The Russians. That’s right about the time the Russians start dripping emails out for the rest of the campaign. Oh, and at no point during any of this does Manafort—again, millions of dollars in debt to Bad Dudes In Russia—take a paycheck from the Trump campaign.
You don’t need a security clearance or a J.D. to read that paragraph and see why the SCO wants to chat with Paul Manafort. But let’s take a closer look at what just happened.