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Pavel Manafort's Trials and Tribulations

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Waffle Time

So they finally broke Manafort! It was just a matter of time. I'm not sure why he held out so long, but they better have him well protected or he will end up having an "accident". The man was in way too deep and knew way too much. 

Actually, it would end up amusing if instead of Trump being the other person he is supposed to be providing, it is Pence. Trump would help toss Pence under the bus in a blink of an eye. 

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ooopsie.  I think Mueller is about to start pulling on the yarn that is Manafort's sweater and the entire damn thing is going to unravel before our very eyes. 


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"What can Paul Manafort tell Mueller? Adam Schiff offers some suggestions."


Today, Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two criminal charges as part of a deal in which he will offer full cooperation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. What might President Trump’s former campaign chairman have to say?

I spoke on Friday with Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and he stressed that we cannot be sure of the outlines of the arrangement they made.

But Schiff did suggest a few possible ways in which Manafort — who was convicted last month on tax and bank fraud charges and was facing more legal jeopardy — could shed light on questions involving a possible Trump campaign conspiracy with Russian interference in the 2016 election, or obstruction of justice.

First, Schiff noted, Mueller would likely want to know from Manafort as much as possible about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended with the full expectation of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton supplied by the Russian government.

The congressman also noted that Mueller would want to know what Manafort can tell him about the “background to the Trump Tower meeting, what took place at the Trump Tower meeting, and what took place after the Trump Tower meeting.” It has not been established that Trump himself knew about this meeting at the time, but Manafort might be able to testify to that, as well.

On another conspiracy-related front, as Natasha Bertrand points out in the Atlantic, Manafort might be in a good position to shed light on what exactly former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos — who has testified as part of his own plea deal that he learned Russia had stolen information on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” — might have told campaign higher-ups about this at the time, another big unknown.

Schiff suggested that Manafort might also be able to shed light on any other illegal activity by the campaign. He pointed out that we did not learn that Trump had directed estranged personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments in violation of campaign-finance law until Cohen admitted it in court. There could be more such conduct that we haven’t learned about.

“There’s potentially a range of other illegal conduct that Manafort could shed light on, in much the way Michael Cohen did,” Schiff told me.

Schiff also pointed out that Manafort could conceivably open up about the joint-defense agreement he previously had with Trump, under which the two shared confidential information in a privileged setting.

“For months, as part of their joint defense agreement, they would have been strategizing together,” Schiff noted, adding that Manafort might be able to share information on “what conversations” Trump might have had with Manafort “after the charges were brought against him.” A long time has passed since Manafort was charged earlier this year. What have Trump and Manafort discussed about this during the interim?

Which leads to questions about a possible pardon for Manafort. “If the president or his team were dangling a pardon in conversations with Manafort, that would go to the issue of obstruction of justice as well,” Schiff said. And Manafort could conceivably fill Mueller in on that, if it happened.

Back in August, after Cohen pleaded guilty, Trump praised Manafort for refusing to “break,” suggesting that Manafort holding strong was very much in his interest. Now that Manafort has indeed “broken,” Trump has yet to issue a tweet.


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"Manafort's surrender shows Mueller probe's overwhelming force"


Paul Manafort vowed he’d never flip on Donald Trump. After Manafort’s conviction in federal court last month in Virginia, the president declared he had “such respect for a brave man!” because his former campaign chairman hadn’t folded.

About three weeks later, Manafort broke.

The longtime GOP operative, who pleaded guilty Friday in a Washington D.C. federal courtroom days before he was set to go on trial, is now the third close Trump associate to reverse course and throw himself at the mercy of government prosecutors.

The surprise twist provided further evidence of the overwhelming power of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, before which a growing roster of defendants are finding resistance to be futile.

While Mueller passed up the opportunity for a public trial that would bring to light more proof of wrongdoing, legal experts say Manafort’s plea agreement contained important new details that continue what has been a public education campaign of sorts by the special counsel.

“The Mueller team is the A team, for real,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the nonprofit R Street Institute and a former senior counsel to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. “And they are using a series of speaking indictments to, in effect, file their final report.”

Friday’s legal action also provided a new window into the size and scope of Mueller’s investigation, underscoring the sheer legal firepower at the former FBI director’s command.

More than 20 members of the special counsel’s investigation team appeared in the second-floor courtroom Friday morning, where lead prosecutors Andrew Weissmann, Greg Andres and Brandon Van Grack were joined by a phalanx of FBI and IRS agents who did significant grunt work preparing for Manafort’s trial on charges of failing to register as a lobbyist for the government of Ukraine several years ago, before he joined Trump’s 2016 campaign.

It was to be Manafort’s second trial at the hands of Mueller, who last month won the former lobbyist-consultant’s conviction on eight felony counts of tax and bank fraud.

Mueller has also played a role in convincing two other Trump loyalists, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to turn against a president they had previously vowed to protect.

In court Friday, Weissmann seemed to relish summarizing the rap sheet against Manafort. The longtime federal prosecutor, who has tried mafia dons and Enron executives, spent more than 30 minutes listing for a judge all the charges that Manafort initially fought but pleaded guilty to, from tampering with witnesses to failing to register his lobbying on behalf of Ukraine’s government during the Obama administration.

After he was done, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson joked that Weissmann had just given “probably the longest and most detailed summary” of charges she had heard in a plea hearing.

But in the absence of a trial, the presentation served to create a clear if less thorough public record of the wrongdoing Mueller’s team found.

The charges to which Manafort pleaded guilty do not involve Trump or his 2016 campaign. But the agreement does require Manafort to cooperate with prosecutors as they continue probing whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort chaired Trump’s campaign during several moments central to the special counsel’s probe, including the public release of Democratic emails that U.S. intelligence officials say were hacked by Russians, and an infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Manafort also boasts a longtime relationship to a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oleg Deripaska, whom he offered to give private campaign briefings during the 2016 campaign. Mueller’s office has said that Manafort’s intermediary to Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, who also served as the lobbyist’s right-hand man in Ukraine, has ties to Russian intelligence.

Kilimnik, who is believed to be in Russia, was to be a co-defendant in the trial. He is not known to have spoken to Mueller’s team.

The past several weeks revealed the breadth of Mueller’s work in other ways. More than a dozen witnesses during Manafort’s trial in Virginia acknowledged receiving subpoenas from the special counsel, demanding everything from television advertisement scripts to an invoice for a Mercedes Benz.

Mueller also demonstrated that he can tap at will into other federal law enforcement branches and their deep bench of experienced investigators when he needs specific kinds of help.

One has been Michael Welch, an IRS special agent whose has spent 25 years leading investigations into tax cheats. Two others are FBI forensic accountant Morgan Magionos and Paula Liss, a Treasury Department expert in fraud and money laundering. Both testified in the Virginia trial about how the Mueller team relied on their expertise to sift through millions of dollars in payments from secret foreign bank accounts.

The FBI is anchoring Mueller’s probe in other vital ways too. About 14 agents raided Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, condominium last summer to procure the financial documents and emails so central to the government charges. Special agents also went to the homes of bank executives who did business with Manafort for interviews. One of the contractors who did millions of dollars of work on Manafort’s homes described during last month’s trial meeting “for several hours with a very pleasant young lady from the FBI who went step by step, invoice by invoice, over detail of each invoice, matching it with each payment.”

Mueller’s thoroughness has upended the defense plans for other Trump loyalists. Lawyers for Flynn had maintained regular contact with the president’s attorneys until late November 2017, just a week before the former Trump national security adviser pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors rather than face trial for lying to the FBI.

Mueller’s investigators also sicced federal prosecutors in New York on Cohen, whose guilty plea last month – on the same day as Manafort’s conviction in Virginia -- rocked the president’s inner circle. Even after the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in April, Trump spoke by phone with his longtime fixer, who once said he’d take a bullet for the president. Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney to Trump, didn’t signal until mid-May that Cohen was no longer representing Trump.

Those cases and others are earning Mueller’s team new praise as the latest cooperation agreement sinks in.

“The Manafort plea confirms what many observers knew from the outset — that Mueller had assembled a superb team of professional prosecutors who could track through complex financial transactions and figure out whether federal crimes have been committed,” said Philip Lacovara, an attorney who served on the Watergate special counsel team.

“The track record of convictions demonstrates that Mueller is systematically building his cases and charging only persons who have been caught dead to rights,” he added. “Manafort’s belated capitulation should signal anyone else charged by Mueller that there is little chance to escape.”

Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who attended Manafort’s Virginia trial, credited the Mueller team with securing the guilty plea and Manafort’s cooperation by redrafting their indictment against him to encompass all his misconduct in a single conspiracy against the U.S. charge while dismissing the remaining counts.

“This accomplished two goals — requiring him to admit to all of his criminal conduct while at the same time reducing his potential sentencing exposure because of the five-year statutory maximum for that count to provide an incentive to plead guilty,” she said.

Duke University law professor Samuel Buell, another federal prosecutor, said he’s most impressed by the Mueller team’s “incredible discipline with which they have been able to tune out and seal off everything around them and just do what federal prosecutors and FBI agents do.”

“So far, it’s as if Trump and his political operation practically don’t exist for them,” added Buell, who worked with Weissmann to prosecute the Enron case. “What is happening to Mueller’s targets is the same thing that has happened to hundreds of others, for years and years, when faced with experienced, talented, determined, and patient prosecutors and agents.”

“In those circumstances, federal criminal law wins almost every time,” he added. “These prosecutors knew that going in and they’ve kept their eyes on that ball.


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"Trump cannot use a pardon to stop Manafort’s cooperation"


Paul Rosenzweig is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a policy research organization and a former Whitewater prosecutor under Kenneth W. Starr. Justin Florence is the legal director of Protect Democracy and a former White House associate counsel in the Obama administration. 

With a plea deal announced Friday in the second trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, the possibility that President Trump will issue a pardon to prevent Manafort's future cooperation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III warrants fresh attention.

Trump's supportive tweet about Manafort after his conviction in August on eight felony fraud counts, praising him for not cooperating with prosecutors, was widely interpreted as a hint of future presidential leniency. Trump has insisted on his "absolute" power to pardon even himself, and his lawyers in a secret January memo to Mueller asserted the president's complete control over federal investigations as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

Trump and his team have tried to lay the groundwork for pardons to protect him from criminal charges. But can he use the pardon power in that way? Not in our reading of the law. A self-pardon, or a pardon that is self-protective and serves the same purpose as a self-pardon, would be an abuse of power that violates the Constitution and, as such, could warrant impeachment.

If the president can use the pardon power to protect himself from prosecution, it would effectively transform him into an authoritarian ruler, incapable of being limited by law or any other branches of government. In constitutional terms, using the pardon power in this way would appear to violate Article II, which requires the president to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." To honor his oath of office, in other words, the president must act faithfully to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" to the best of his ability.

A president's first obligation is to the Constitution and its faithful enforcement — not to himself. He may not act, or fail to act, for corrupt or self-interested reasons. And he must enforce the laws Congress has enacted, not subvert those laws to his own interests or those of his cronies.

The president's powers — even seemingly unfettered ones, such as the power of the pardon — must be exercised within the parameters of other legal requirements derived from the Constitution or enacted by statute. To see this most clearly, consider a diverse group of people: the class of people who violated the Selective Service laws during the Vietnam War by burning their draft cards, fleeing to Canada, or through other, nonviolent acts of protest. President Jimmy Carter used the pardon power to grant clemency to everyone who had broken these laws in protesting the war — a merciful gesture by Carter, whatever your view on the merits of the conflict.  

But what if, say, Carter had granted the same clemency but limited it to Caucasians and excluded all people of color. Or if he afforded clemency only to Catholics, but not to Protestants, Jews or Muslims. Americans would surely say that the pardon power could not be used in that way — and that using a lawful power to violate another law (in this case, the right to equal protection) would render the pardon itself illegitimate and unlawful.

The principle would also apply to self-protective pardons; the power itself cannot reasonably be read to allow its use to further violations of other laws — in Trump's case, that might mean laws against corruption, obstruction and conspiracy. 

The Office of Legal Counsel, which sits in the Justice Department and provides the president with opinions on executive actions, has the view that the president cannot self-pardon. As part of the executive branch, the OLC is very much in favor of executive power.

But on the issue of self-pardons, the OLC has been more restrained. In a 1974 opinion, written four days before President Richard M. Nixon resigned, the head of OLC wrote that the president cannot pardon himself, under "the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case." That is a rare example of the executive branch articulating a limit on its own power, and it shows why a president's use of the pardon power for others to obstruct an investigation and to immunize himself from liability would be legally suspect.

The OLC's opinions are binding only for subordinates in the executive branch. A president is free to ignore them, as some presidents have. But if the president were to issue a self-protective pardon, as in the case of Manafort, that would be a novel, untested act that would run counter to the precept that in our country, nobody is above the law.


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Rachel reads from the court transcript. Apparently Manafort gave his first proffer on Tuesday

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Garry Kasparov, I ❤️ you so hard.  Funny chit: 


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"The other big reason Paul Manafort could change everything"


When Paul Manafort agreed to cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III on Friday, plenty of people were surprised. Manafort, after all, had already been convicted in a previous trial, through which he had remained resolute. He even earned President Trump’s praise for declining to cut a deal. “Such respect for a brave man!” Trump declared, it turns out rather prematurely.

But why go through all that trouble — and lose your leverage to negotiate — if you were just going to flip?

We still don’t know the answer to that, and we won’t for a while (if ever). Perhaps Manafort lost his will or the financial means to fight. Or perhaps he never really offered much, and Mueller was simply more willing to cut a deal once he was already headed to prison.

But there is one thing that changed between Manafort’s trial and today — or, more aptly, changed the day Manafort was convicted on eight counts. That was also the day, you might recall, that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of his own. And in doing so, Cohen effectively named Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in a campaign finance violation, ratcheting up Trump’s legal problems significantly.

It could be — although it’s impossible to say with any certainty — that this changed the calculus for Manafort. It’s one thing to be the one who flips and becomes The Guy Who Informed on the President; it’s another to be one of two guys. Cohen was the highest-profile person close to Trump who had flipped, and he implicated Trump in wrongdoing in a way others before him hadn’t. If you’re Manafort, it seems possible that you see that and think, The truth is going to come out anyway. Why don’t I get on the right side of this thing?

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) brought this up Sunday in a way that is worth digesting. Schiff wasn’t theorizing about Manafort’s thought process, mind you, but about how others might view his flip going forward.

“This sends a message to anyone who is in Bob Mueller’s crosshairs right now: You better get to the special counsel and make your deal now, because anyone who gets indicted by Bob Mueller goes down,” Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And the longer you wait to come clean, the worse deal you’re gonna get — the more time you’re gonna face.”

Schiff has a bias here. He’s a Democrat, and he clearly has been skeptical about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. But the point he makes is a valid one. Although it’s possible that people saw Michael T. Flynn’s and George Papadopoulos’s deals as unknown quantities, it’s much more difficult to dismiss Cohen’s and Manafort’s cooperation. These are men who were intimately involved with Trump’s actions, who ostensibly could know plenty about what happened both in 2016 and, in Cohen’s case, before then.

In that way, Manafort’s flip matters both for what he might tell Mueller and the signal it might send to others. If you were under suspicion, you have to be really nervous right now — both because of whether you might be the next Manafort and because the longer you wait, the less leverage you might have to get your own deal.

This is why Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, spent much of the weekend rather dubiously assuring people that Manafort’s cooperation agreement did not involve the 2016 campaign. Trump’s legal team and Manafort’s had a joint defense agreement, which provides a whiff of legitimacy to Giuliani’s assurances. But there is nothing in Manafort’s deal that explicitly exempts him from sharing campaign information, and people who cut such plea deals don’t, as a rule, get to pick and choose what information they share; they have to share it all.

So who could be tempted to cut the next deal? Given that nobody else has been indicted, it’s tough to say. Roger Stone has certainly been a very real focus of Mueller’s recently, and he has said he’s preparing to be charged. K.T. McFarland hasn’t been in the news for a while, but her problematic testimony is no less problematic today than it was eight months ago. We still haven’t heard that Donald Trump Jr. has been interviewed by Mueller, leaving open the possibility that Mueller is saving him as a potential target for the Trump Tower meeting. Or it could be someone completely off the radar.

Anybody who’s in one of their positions, though, has to be asking themselves just how much time they have — and whether someone else might get their deal and share the information they have before they do. In that way, Manafort’s deal isn’t really just about Manafort, and it may not be only about what he knows.


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One thing to remember about Manafort: he's been spending time in jail.  He started out with a pretty good deal: internet access, and other benefits.  Then he (or his lawyer) wanted him moved closer to the trial venue.  That happened and he was moved to a much crappier and more restrictive setting. He knows the drill now and knows what's in store in the future and wants to minimize the time he spends in the gray bar hotel.  Surely, that was a least part of the motivation to talk spill his guts to Mueller.  He also wanted to protect his wife, who may very well have been vulnerable to serious legal liability over their marital "finances." 

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15 minutes ago, Howl said:

One thing to remember about Manafort: he's been spending time in jail.  He started out with a pretty good deal: internet access, and other benefits.  Then he (or his lawyer) wanted him moved closer to the trial venue.  That happened and he was moved to a much crappier and more restrictive setting. He knows the drill now and knows what's in store in the future and wants to minimize the time he spends in the gray bar hotel.  Surely, that was a least part of the motivation to talk spill his guts to Mueller.  He also wanted to protect his wife, who may very well have been vulnerable to serious legal liability over their marital "finances." 

Protecting his wife (and children) might also have been his motivation for giving up so much of his assets. That way, nobody (Ukranian, Russian oligarchs) has reason to come after them, as they will have no assets to take away from them.

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