Pardon us, but was it only three weeks ago that President Trump expressed “such respect” for Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman and freshly minted felon, who had refused to cooperate with the special counsel’s office and took his federal bank- and tax-fraud conviction like a “brave man”?
That tribute was meant to highlight the president’s contempt for the decision by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty that same day to his own charges of bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign-finance violations. Unlike the weak Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, Mr. Manafort “refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’”
So much for that. Mr. Trump’s expectation that there is any honor among thieves has been confounded once again.
On Friday, Mr. Manafort broke in a big way — agreeing to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” regarding “any and all matters” the special counsel, Robert Mueller, wants him to.
The bombshell agreement was part of a guilty plea Mr. Manafort entered in a separate case in a Washington federal court, relating to his lucrative lobbying work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He copped to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States and to obstruct justice, each of which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Mr. Manafort also agreed to forfeit $46 million in cash and property derived from his crimes.
In return, Mr. Mueller agreed to drop five other counts, which included money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, and not to retry Mr. Manafort on 10 counts over which last month’s jury deadlocked.
Unless Mr. Trump is watching Fox News, he can’t be feeling too good right now. In January, NBC News reported that he had told friends and aides he had decided Mr. Manafort wouldn’t “flip” on him. And the two men’s lawyers have been in regular contact as part of a joint defense agreement, according to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. If any of those conversations involved the dangling of a pardon for Mr. Manafort — which prosecutors might consider to be obstruction of justice — they would not be protected by any privilege and would probably be fair game for Mr. Mueller.
What else might Mr. Manafort reveal? Mr. Mueller is very interested in that curious meeting he attended, along with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, at Trump Tower in June 2016 — the one with the Russian government representative who promised to provide “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
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The White House’s defense is that the crimes for which Mr. Manafort was convicted, committed long before joining the Trump campaign, have nothing to do with the president.
The bad news for Mr. Trump is that there are still many unanswered questions about how Mr. Manafort exploited his Russian connections in the service of helping Mr. Trump’s campaign, and whether Mr. Trump knew or was involved in any way. Beyond the Trump Tower meeting, there’s evidence that Mr. Manafort hoped to use the campaign job — for which he took no paycheck — to help Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, and to extract himself from a multimillion-dollar debt to the tycoon.
For now, Mr. Manafort can take comfort in the knowledge that he joins an ever-growing crowd of top Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to federal offenses: Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign; Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s business partner and deputy campaign chairman; and Mr. Cohen, whose case is being handled by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. All have agreed to cooperate with authorities, except Mr. Cohen — and even that may be changing.
How many more guilty pleas and convictions will there be in Trumpworld before all this crime starts to look — how can we put it — organized?