Politics

Washington Monthly | What Is Mueller Getting in Return for Manafort and Cohen Pleas?

Analyzing developments in the ongoing Russia conspiracy is often like scrying into a cloudy crystal ball: you can stare endlessly at it and try to guess at the future, but it’s possible to see things that aren’t really there, and the mere effort to puzzle it out can be maddening.

That said, the latest plea deal with Manafort and the increasing cooperation from Michael Cohen mean that Robert Mueller likely has (or is about to have) all the goods. The one other major person of interest in a position to know more about the intersection of the Trump campaign, Russian hackers and Wikileaks is Roger Stone. But it’s highly unlikely that the dirty trickster with a Richard Nixon tattoo on his back would flip on Trump regardless of what he may or may not know.

Which means there’s only one major question left: what are the goods that Mueller traded the plea deals with Cohen and Manafort for?

The terms of Manafort’s deal are particularly interesting in this context, since Mueller did not give him much lenience, nor any protection should Mueller wish to retract the arrangement. That seems to indicate both that the special counsel knows he has Manafort dead to rights on the remaining charges, that Manafort knows it as well, and that Manafort must have something fairly compelling to trade for the deal.

Now, it’s possible that Trump’s defenders are right that none of this directly implicates the president in collusion with Russia (certainly, whatever case Mueller has on obstruction of justice is another matter unrelated to Cohen and Manafort.) It’s possible that Cohen’s cooperation only covers the payoffs to mistresses and other sleazy campaign finance issues; it’s possible that Manafort’s cooperation relates only tax evasion and foreign influence peddling. Perhaps Mueller is just trading for small potatoes to make sure he has searched every possible rabbit hole. The Trump team is outwardly projecting confidence that this is the case.

But Robert Mueller is experienced with prosecuting organized crime, and good prosecutors in this area are not keen on offering leniency to middle-level players if they can’t get decent evidence against the head capos. Gates, Papadopoulos and Flynn have already turned, and we still don’t know what Mueller learned from them. Now Manafort and Cohen have as well.

It would be shocking if the deals made for their testimony didn’t implicate the president and/or his immediate family not just in minor scofflawry, but in a massive criminal conspiracy as well.

 


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