Manafort to spill beans, but what does he know?

The ed­i­to­rial board of The Wall Street Jour­nal

The Australian - - WORLD -

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.

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