More bad news for Trump
Paul Manafort’s decision to cooperate as a potential witness for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is news the president never wanted to hear. The prospect of such a deal is why his lawyers reportedly dangled the promise of a pardon in front of Manafort’s lawyers. We do not yet know whether this cooperation will reveal information about President Trump or the Russia investigation, but a plea deal that could put the Russians inside Trump’s campaign blows to smithereens the notion that only low-level non-players, or those distantly related to the campaign, had Russian connections. Trump, who was praising his former campaign chairman to the heavens just weeks ago, will find it hard (but not impossible) to now smear him as a liar.
“The relentless Mueller push continues — as does that of the rule of law,” observes former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen. “The reported cooperation agreement could be devastating to the president — and those around him. Manafort, for example, could implicate not only the president in the Trump Tower meeting, but also others who were involved such as Don Jr. or [Jared] Kushner. The same is true on the mysterious [RNC] platform change, and indeed on all the possible collusion offenses.”
The plea agreement certainly explodes Trump’s claim that Mueller is engaged in a “witch hunt.” The only “hoax” here is the pretense that there was nothing out of the ordinary going on inside the Trump campaign, or that it was too disorganized to have spent time colluding with Russians.
Trump also loses the argument that Mueller is wasting taxpayer money. As part of the plea deal, Manafort is going to cough up $46 million in forfeited assets, according to news reports. That more than pays for Mueller and his team (who, at last glance, had spent $20 million). Then again, it all depends how high a price you put on the restoration of American democracy.
Before Friday, Trump was already crashing in the polls and Mueller’s approval was rising, in large part because of last month’s conviction of Manafort and the guilty plea by Michael Cohen. The recording of Trump discussing a payoff with Cohen surely didn’t help his credibility.
What we will find out in the days and weeks ahead is just how much Manafort knows and how much he can tell us about what Trump knew regarding Russian interference. Republicans who have been carrying water for the president, put down the buckets and run for your political lives. Frankly, at some point, voting for impeachment and removal might be a good option for Republicans.
Before we get there, however, there are the midterm elections, which are shaping up to be a wipeout for the GOP.