It's been about a year and a half since Paul Manafort, who led Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, was first indicted for a variety of felonies. The Republican operative had a choice to cooperate, but he preferred to go to trial, where he was convicted on multiple counts.
Faced with the prospect of another trial and additional convictions, Manafort flipped -- or at least said he did. Seemingly left with no choice, Trump's former campaign chairman said in September that he'd cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, in exchange for a less severe sentence.
A problem, however, soon emerged: Mueller's team concluded that Manafort wasn't living up to his end of the bargain. In fact, federal investigators found that the president's former aide was still lying to the special counsel's office, even after vowing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Manafort and his lawyers insisted otherwise. Yesterday, a federal judge told the defendant what he didn't want to hear.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller had proved that Paul Manafort lied on three occasions and agreed the prosecutors are no longer bound by a deal to recommend a lighter sentence for Manafort.After a closed hearing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, had lied to the FBI, the special counsel's Office and the Mueller grand jury regarding payments made by an unidentified "Firm A" to a law firm and that the matter was material to their investigation.She also ruled that Manafort had made multiple false statements to the FBI, the special counsel's office and grand jury regarding his interactions and communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian-Russian associate, and that Manafort made false statements on Oct. 5, 2018, that were material to another Justice Department investigation.
For Manafort, this is obviously a disaster. He's nearly 70, his health doesn't appear to be great, and after having been caught lying to the prosecutors he was legally required to assist, Manafort may spend the rest of his life behind bars. He may even face new felony charges, adding to his existing legal woes.
But there's also a larger context to this.
First, as Rachel emphasized on the show last night, everyone who's gone up against Mueller and his team has lost. That obviously includes Manafort, but he has a lot of company.
Second, Manafort didn't just lie about trivial matters. On the contrary, he lied to federal prosecutors about his Russian contacts, for reasons that aren't altogether clear, at least not yet.
Third, quite a few of Donald Trump's associates have been caught lying about their Russian contacts, which only reinforces concerns about the breadth of the underlying scandal.
Finally, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff added this gem on the show last night:
"It appears the judge has largely agreed with what the special counsel argued, and that is not only did he lie, but the motivation here is if he told the truth about his relationship with someone affiliated with Russian intelligence while he was the campaign chairman, that would be so damaging effectively to Trump that it would negate his chance of a pardon."That to me is quite telling. It`s not just that if he told the truth, it would be damaging to Manafort or Kilimnik, but it would reflect so adversely on the president that he would lose his chance of a pardon, and there is obviously more to that when we find out about those meetings with Kilimnik."
Watch this space.