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Mueller says Manafort kept lying, even after plea agreement

Why, exactly, did Trump's former campaign chairman keep lying, even after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors? There are some tantalizing possibilities.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs from U.S. District Court
FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs from U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, was one of the first dominos to fall, helping kick off the investigation into the Russia scandal. Yesterday, after having been convicted of lying to the FBI about his Russian interactions, Papadopoulos reported to a federal penitentiary to begin serving his sentence.

And a few hours later, we learned that he's not the only member of the president's political operation who's poised to spend time behind bars.

Federal prosecutors asked a judge on Monday to sentence former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying he broke his plea agreement by lying to the FBI and investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller.Manafort, 69, was convicted of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud in August. In September, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation when he pleaded guilty to two new counts and admitted his guilt to 10 counts outstanding from the earlier trial in Virginia.On Monday, prosecutors with Mueller's office told the court that "after signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel's Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement."

We don't yet know what it was, exactly, that Trump's former campaign chairman lied about, but the special counsel's team intends to file a "detailed sentencing submission," which is likely to be an exceedingly interesting document. (It's also, incidentally, a possible vehicle for information about the overall investigation, which Trump's allies in the Justice Department would be unable to squelch.)

There are, of course, multiple angles to developments like these, but let's note at the outset that this isn't necessarily good news for Trump's critics. The fact that the former head of the president's political operation is poised to be sentenced to a lengthy prison term may seem satisfying to the White House's political opponents, but the truth is more complicated.

After all, when Manafort "flipped" in September and reached an agreement with prosecutors, he quickly became an incredibly important source of information for Mueller and his investigators. If Manafort continued to lie, and his deal is now dead, it cuts off a key source of information for the special counsel.

In other words, Mueller would much rather have Manafort talking than lock Manafort up for lying. As things stand, however, the special counsel is left with the latter, not the former.

Another angle to keep in mind is why, exactly, Trump's former campaign chairman kept lying, even after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors. What possessed him to take the risk? With the threat of an extended prison sentence hanging over head, wasn't it in his interest to come clean?

Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesperson and an MSNBC analyst, wrote yesterday that Manafort "is either an incredibly stupid criminal or he's protecting some secret so big that he's willing to spend the rest of his life in jail to keep the world from discovering it."

While that certainly raises some tantalizing possibilities, there may be a couple of other possibilities, including the possibility of Manafort receiving a presidential pardon from his former boss, and the possibility that Manafort, for some reason, believes he'd be better off in a federal penitentiary.

I'm not in a position to know which of these explanations best captures Manafort's reasoning, but don't be surprised if the truth comes into sharper focus fairly soon.