Responsible journalists report that Trump White House aides (who are notoriously sieve-like) say the US president feels alone and cornered.
Feeling lonely should not be surprising, as Trump is not one for close friendships. He has proven time and again that for him, loyalty is a one-way street. Virtually no one who works for him can feel secure. Probably no one but his daughter Ivanka is safe from the terminal wrath that eventually pushes so many associates out the door.
.. Trump had dropped hints that he would pardon Manafort, but he was advised – and for once, he listened – that to do so before November’s midterm congressional elections would be catastrophic for the Republicans and therefore him. Manafort apparently calculated that he could neither bet on a pardon later – what if Trump himself was in serious legal danger by then? – nor afford another trial. His plea deal with Mueller strips him of most of his properties and tens of millions of dollars, but he was willing to accept huge financial losses to avoid the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.
.. Manafort also wanted an arrangement that would keep his family safe. After all, he would be giving Mueller’s prosecutors the goods on some Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin – folks who are not particularly gentle toward people who betray them.
.. Kavanaugh was a risky choice all along. Drawn from a list of other highly conservative possible nominees provided to the president by the right-wing Federalist Society, Kavanaugh stood apart for his extraordinary views about presidential power. Kavanaugh has written that he believed that a president cannot be investigated or prosecuted while he is in office.
.. This view that a president is above the law is unique (so far as is known) among serious legal scholars. Its appeal to Trump is obvious. Moreover, Kavanaugh’s views are far to the right on other issues as well
.. Republican leaders were desperate to get Kavanaugh confirmed before the midterms, lest their voters stay home out of disappointment and even anger if he wasn’t confirmed – in which case their worst nightmare, a Democratic takeover of the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, could come true..
.. Bob Woodward’s latest book, Fear, which (like previous books on Trump, but to a greater extent and with more depth) offers a devastating portrait of a dysfunctional White House. In particular, the book – together with an anonymous New York Times op-ed by a senior administration official – showed how far aides would go to keep an incurious, ignorant, and paranoid president from impulsively doing something disastrous.
As part of the plea, he agreed to coöperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Manafort will lose several properties, the money in several bank accounts, and a life-insurance policy, which appear to have value well in excess of ten million dollars. In exchange, Manafort was assured that he will spend no more than a decade in prison for the two charges, so long as he fully coöperates with Mueller.
.. The plea agreement specifically requires Manafort to disclose to the government “his participation in and knowledge of all criminal activities.”
.. But, even if Manafort had very little helpful to offer, he said, “this is a good deal for Mueller.” Mueller gets another guilty plea and avoids a potential loss at trial, which serves to undercut Trump’s repeated argument that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt.” Even if Mueller already knows everything that Manafort has to offer, it would be helpful to have another voice confirming details at some future criminal trial for some other defendant.
.. Among the Trump team, Manafort would be, by far, the most experienced in dealing with emissaries from Russia and its allies, and the one most likely to understand the various agendas of those present. He surely knows what he told Trump, Jr., Trump himself, Kushner, and others about the significance of the meeting.
.. Manafort can also potentially shed light on several key people and a number of events that the public still knows too little about. Was Manafort’s employee Konstantin Kilimnik a Russian intelligence asset? And did he serve as a channel between the Trump campaign and Moscow? When Manafort pondered giving Oleg Deripaska—a Russian oligarch close to Putin—insider access to the Trump campaign, what did he mean? What, if anything, did he end up offering Deripaska?
.. Rather than merely informing on others, this theory holds that he would be able to lay out the full story of collusion (if, indeed, there was any).
.. However, this plea agreement is not overly generous. It strips Manafort of much of his wealth and means that the man, who is sixty-nine years old, will likely spend a decade in prison.
.. This could be because Manafort doesn’t know as much as we might imagine, or, more likely, that Mueller already knows most of what Manafort could tell him.
.. the Mueller investigation will likely come down to one central question: Did senior members of the Trump campaign, with the explicit knowledge of Trump himself, actively work with Russian government actors to help sway the election so that Trump would win? If the answer is yes, then Trump will almost certainly be impeached and removed from office.
If Manafort were in a position to definitively answer that question, it seems unlikely he would have accepted this plea agreement. He would have been in a position to hold out for something far better.
Why Trump’s sudden interest? One possible inference was that the President had somehow heard that there was more bad news coming about Manafort, and he was trying to limit some of the damage in advance of its release.
.. Mueller’s office accused Manafort, who is out on bail, of trying to tamper with potential witnesses earlier this year, and asked a judge to consider jailing him before his trial.
.. Manafort secretly arranged for a group of former European officials, known as the Hapsburg group, to lobby inside the United States on his clients’ behalf, and that Manafort didn’t disclose this activity on federal disclosure forms.
.. The court filing states that Manafort was trying to get the witness to lie on his behalf: “Person D1 has told the government that he understood Manafort’s outreach to be an effort to ‘suborn perjury,’ because person D1 knew that the Hapsburg group worked in the United States—not just Europe.”
.. “Persons D1 and D2 both preserved the messages they received from Manafort and Person A”—Manafort’s longtime associate—“which were sent on encrypted applications, and have provided them to the government.”
.. Manafort’s actions seem brazen or desperate, or perhaps both.
.. On Monday night, reporters identified Person A as Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian with Russian citizenship, who once worked for Manafort’s consulting firm.
.. His name came up last year, when Mueller’s team claimed he helped edit an op-ed for a Kiev newspaper in coöperation with Manafort.
.. The special counsel said that this op-ed violated a gag order that had been placed on Manafort.
.. leaving Manafort to face the prospect of a trial in Virginia next month, followed by another one, in Washington, D.C., in September.
.. Neither did Trump—but he didn’t need to. He had already tried to run as far as possible from his former campaign chairman.
.. Now, like everyone else, he will watch what happens next in court, and see if Manafort becomes a coöperating witness.