Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mueller's status report on Manafort - Has the perjury trap already been sprung

The New York Times reported that Manafort Breached Plea Deal by Repeatedly Lying, Mueller Says.

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, repeatedly lied to federal investigators in breach of a plea agreement he signed two months ago, the special counsel’s office said in a court filing late on Monday.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve them of all promises they made to him in the plea agreement. But under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea.

Defense lawyers disagreed that Mr. Manafort had violated the deal. In the same filing, they said Mr. Manafort had met repeatedly with the special counsel’s office and “believes he has provided truthful information.”

But given the impasse between the two sides, they asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to set a sentencing date for Mr. Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement in a detention center in Alexandria, Va.

The 11th-hour development in Mr. Manafort’s case is a fresh sign of the special counsel’s aggressive approach in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone in the Trump campaign knew about or assisted Moscow’s effort.

Striking a plea deal with Mr. Manafort in September potentially gave prosecutors access to information that could prove useful to their investigation. But their filing on Monday, a rare step in a plea deal, suggested that they thought Mr. Manafort was withholding details that could be pertinent to the Russia inquiry or other cases.

The question of whether Mr. Trump might pardon Mr. Manafort for his crimes has loomed over his case since he was first indicted a year ago and has lingered as a possibility. A former lawyer for Mr. Trump broached the prospect of a pardon with one of Mr. Manafort’s lawyers last year, raising questions about whether he was trying to influence Mr. Manafort’s decision about whether to cooperate with investigators.

The filing Monday suggested that prosecutors do not consider Mr. Manafort a credible witness. Even if he has provided information that helps them develop criminal cases, by asserting that he repeatedly lied, they could hardly call him to testify.

Mr. Manafort had hoped that in agreeing to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s team, prosecutors would argue that he deserved a lighter punishment. He is expected to face at least a decade-long prison term for 10 felony counts including financial fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Instead, after at least a dozen sessions interrogating him, the special counsel’s prosecutors have not only decided Mr. Manafort does not deserve leniency, but they also could seek to refile other charges that they had agreed to dismiss as part of the plea deal.

The prosecutors did not describe what they said Mr. Manafort lied about, saying they would set forth “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” in an upcoming sentencing memo. The sentencing judge does not have to accept the prosecution’s account at face value, and Mr. Manafort’s lawyers are expected to vigorously contest it.

So what’s going on here?

"Everybody who lies to Mueller gets called on it — so he had to know that Mueller would catch him. So the question is: What was he hiding that is worse than going to jail for the rest of your life?” said Joyce Vance, a professor of law at the University of Alabama law school and former federal prosecutor. “There are often rocky dealings with a cooperator, and Mueller didn’t cut bait at the first sign of trouble. It was likely more than one lie and this would not have been a minor detail — it had to be something material and significant and intentional.”

Mark Sumner (Daily Kos) speculates that the Manafort plea deal may have started as a set up for Robert Mueller … and ended as a trap for Trump.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accused Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort of breaching his plea deal by repeatedly lying to investigators after agreeing to provide information in exchange for a reduced sentence. This positions Manafort to face higher penalties for his original charges and additional penalties based on misleading the investigation in the weeks since he made his plea. It also opens the possibility that Donald Trump will pardon Manafort—a possibility that was underlined by Trump’s actions over the last day. Put together, there’s a real sense that this was the intention all along: Send in Manafort to distract and mislead the investigation with Trump holding out the promise of a Get Away With It All deal should his campaign manager be caught.

But there’s more to it then just Manafort being unable to find the off button on his lies. The way this is playing out suggests there’s another angle: One in which Manafort and Trump were together all along in hopes of upsetting the special counsel investigation. Except this dirty trick may be backfiring.

According to the New York Times, Robert Mueller’s team was in court on Monday to report that Manafort’s “crimes and lies” on a number of topics means that his plea deal is void. All except the guilty plea. Because the way the deal was made, Manafort is not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. In fact, Manafort testified to his guilt, in court, in a prolonged statement made before a judge on the day the plea was signed.

Everything about the Manafort deal seems to scream that Manafort meant to lie from the outset. It also seems to show that Mueller knew Manafort was likely to be less than honest when he agreed to a deal. Because of course he was. Paul Manafort’s entire life consists of lying, cheating, and getting away with it. From his time as an official “dirty trickster” with Roger Stone, to his role as “the torturer’s lobbyist,” right through his seamless transition in to tumbling governments for profit, Manafort hasn’t just lied, cheated, and stolen, he’s come out smelling like—whatever an ostrich-skin vest smells like. In the midst of helping dictators and selling democracy down the river, Manafort was brought back again and again to chair Republican conventions and campaigns. Why shouldn’t he expect it would work again?

And Trump’s fresh round of tweets and statements against Robert Mueller may show that Manafort’s deal wasn’t only with Mueller. In a series of tweets on Tuesday morning, Trump did not mention Manafort directly, but railed repeatedly against how the special counsel investigation “ruins lives.” Before insisting they should be ruining someone else’s life.

The way in which this came down suggests that, from the beginning, Manafort made his plea not in an effort to reduce his sentence, but as a way to curry favor with Trump.

Rather than face a series of charges in federal court that repeatedly trotted out his association with Russia and the rather clumsy schemes to launder money through real estate transactions—both of which served as a tutorial on what to expect should Mueller actually delve into Trump’s business dealings—Manafort may have taken a proposal to the the Tweeter in Chief.

Here’s how that might have gone:

(1) Manafort agrees to a plea deal, promising to tell all. However, what Manafort tells doesn’t just stop short of “all,” it includes deliberate lies and omissions.

(2) In addition to giving Mueller a sanitized version of events, Manafort reports back to Trump on what the investigation is asking him, providing invaluable prep as Trump determines his own actions.

(3) At the same time, Donald Trump is preparing to answer a set of written questions from Robert Mueller’s team. He delays and delays on providing these answers because … because he’s waiting for his inside man to reassure him that the special counsel has swallowed the “official” version of what happened hook, line, and sinker.

(4) Reassured by Manafort that he has sold Mueller’s team on a carefully edited version of the “truth,” Trump turns in his homework.

(5) And it’s only after Mueller has Trump’s answers in hand that he marches Manafort back into court and reveals that he knew the campaign manager was lying all along. Now Mueller doesn’t just have Manafort on record lying, he has written proof that Manafort and Trump were conspiring again to deceive and misdirect the investigation.

In fact, if Trump and Manafort were working together to sell a story to Mueller’s team, it could not only represent the best example of Trump’s willingness to lie to avoid responsibility, it could be a definitive example how his lies never end.

Paul Manafort’s entire lifestyle of having his name clipped into his lawn and having a Mercedes delivered to one of his many homes with the frequency that most people buy milk was based on the idea that he could always find a bigger lie to sell. In this case, it seems he tried to sell it to Robert Mueller. But the person left paying the bill could be Donald Trump.

Maybe this version gives Mueller too much credit. Maybe there was no scheme between Trump and Manafort. But it certainly looks at this point as if Robert Mueller opened up a door marked “one last chance to demonstrate who you are” and both Trump and Manafort hurried in.

Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel.net) has similar suspicions she writes about in Mueller just guaranteed he can issue a public report.

Back when Paul Manafort first entered a plea agreement, I argued the effects of it could not be pardoned away.

Here’s why this deal is pardon proof:

(1) Mueller spent the hour and a half delay in arraignment doing … something. It’s possible Manafort even presented the key parts of testimony Mueller needs from him to the grand jury this morning.

(2) The forfeiture in this plea is both criminal and civil, meaning DOJ will be able to get Manafort’s $46 million even with a pardon.

(3) Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.

Since that time, Mueller has been busy finishing up the Roger Stone indictment, Trump has finally finished his open book test, and any owners of the property Manafort had to forfeit under the plea deal had their 30-day window to challenge the forfeiture (only the bank owning the loan on his Trump Tower condo is known to have contested the forfeiture, which means the government may already be irretrievably seizing $43 million of Manafort’s property).

Which brings us to the status report that Mueller’s team delayed long enough to get that open book test.

Paulie can’t help himself. According to Mueller’s team, he has kept lying and lying since entering the cooperation agreement.

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. The government will file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement herein.

As the defendant has breached the plea agreement, there is no reason to delay his sentencing herein.

As I noted back in September, the standard the government has to prove to claim Manafort has breached his agreement is just “good faith,” as compared to preponderance of the evidence with Rick Gates.

With Gates, the standard the government has to prove to argue he has breached his agreement is preponderance of the evidence or, in case of committing a crime, probable cause. With Manafort, the government only has to prove “good faith.”

Now, it is true that Trump can pardon Manafort (though that probably won’t happen right away). That’s the only sane explanation for Manafort doing what he did, that he is still certain he’ll be pardoned. But many of these charges can still be charged in state court.

Just about the only explanation for Manafort’s actions are that — as I suggested — Trump was happy to have Manafort serve as a mole in Mueller’s investigation.

But Mueller’s team appears to have no doubt that Manafort was lying to them. That means they didn’t really need his testimony, at all. It also means they had no need to keep secrets — they could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies.

And that “detailed sentencing submission … sett[ing] forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” that Mueller mentions in the report?

There’s your Mueller report, which will be provided in a form that Matt Whitaker won’t be able to suppress. (Reminder: Mueller included 38 pages of evidence along with Manafort’s plea agreement, which I argued showed how what Manafort and Trump did to Hillary was the same thing that Manafort had done to Yulia Tymoshenko.)

When the detailed sentencing submission is filed, assuming it is public, I will update this post.

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