Manafort to spill beans, but what does he know?
The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal
Special counsel Robert Mueller has finally squeezed all the resistance out of Paul Manafort.
The former Trump campaign chairman on Saturday agreed to co-operate with prosecutors, but the important question is whether he knows anything about the alleged Donald Trump-Russia collusion tale that made Manafort a target.
As with his conviction last month on other charges, Manafort’s guilty plea concerns his business as a political fixer long before he worked for the Trump campaign.
He copped to two conspiracy charges, though prosecutors dropped five others ranging from money laundering to false statements. The deal spares Manafort a second trial and imposes a 10-year cap on prison time on all of the charges against him. He also agreed to forfeit four homes and other assets and co-operate with the Mueller probe.
Manafort had long resisted Mueller’s full-court legal squeeze, which included a raid on his home, prison time and solitary confinement before trial, and dozens of charges that could have put him behind bars for the rest of his life. The previous verdicts and the prospect of more convictions and mounting legal bills appear to have pushed Manafort to plead guilty.
And who knows? Maybe Manafort will be the Rosetta Stone of the Trump-Russia narrative, even if there’s still no evidence that he is. The longtime Beltway lobbyist has consistently said he has no information to offer on Russia since there was no collusion.
This is supported by the House of Representatives and Senate intelligence committees, which investigated Manafort and found no evidence of an election conspiracy. On Saturday Politico reported that a source close to the Manafort legal team repeated that “the cooperation agreement does not involve the Trump campaign … There was no collusion with Russia”.
The Manafort plea follows the end of the legal line for another supposed collusion canary: George Papadopoulos. The one-time junior Trump aide was recently sentenced to 14 days in jail for lying to the FBI about some dates. Mueller’s team had asked for as much as six months of jail time.
When Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last year and agreed to cooperate with Mueller, the press had also portrayed the 31-yearold as the key to the collusion narrative. But in his postsentencing media appearances, the star witness has offered nothing that is incriminating against his former colleagues. Unless Mueller is compiling a set of so far unknown facts, Papadopoulos looks more like a hapless young man who didn’t understand how ruthless prosecutors and the FBI can be when they want to squeeze you.
Mueller has convicted several former Trump associates, but the charges have all been for lying to the FBI or corrupt business practices unrelated to the 2016 Trump campaign.
None show any connection between the Trump campaign and Russia’s meddling in the presidential campaign or hacking of Democratic emails.
The good news for the White House is that the Manafort deal removes the prospect for a second trial as a media fixation during the campaign for the November mid-term elections. If Mueller follows Justice Department guidelines, which he is obliged to do, he will now postpone any prosecutions through election day.
Leaks or other news about his investigation will undermine public confidence in a probe that has already wandered far from its original Russia remit and has now lasted 16 months without a resolution.