And While It Indicates The Special Counsel Could Be Getting Very Close, It Could Also Be Working…
The New York Times, in a story late yesterday, characterizes Andrew Weissmann, the prosecutor in the government’s case against former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort as follows:
“Prosecutors view him as a relentless investigator who has overseen some of the Justice Department’s most complex investigations, but some defense lawyers say he is overly combative and will bend the facts to gain a conviction.”
Oh really, New York Times? He’s known in part because he will “bend the facts to gain a conviction“? That could be accurate, we guess. So, how about some examples where his convictions were been overturned on appeal because he presented inaccurate facts or coerced witnesses to testify misleadingly? We don’t have the resources to quickly dig around and find out if those exist. But you know who does? The New York Times. But they didn’t bother. They just decided to present the description and leave it at that.
The reason that’s a problem, and the Times’ description is so potent, if not dangerous, is it parrots–without evidence–one of President Trump’s newest, and potentially most powerful story lines regarding the Mueller investigation, which he presents also without providing evidence. This new “theory” has emerged especially forcefully in the 24-hours or so since the Mueller team announced they were ending their plea agreement with Manafort because he continued to lie to them even after he’d agreed to cooperate. Trump’s folks have since implied, or said straight out, that the Mueller team expected to be able to force Manafort to tell damaging lies about Trump, and his refusals to do so is what really got them mad at him and got them to break their deal with him.
That might be what Trump is referring to when he Tweets “Heroes will come of this, and it won’t be Mueller and his terrible Gang of Angry Democrats“, or “Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie.”
Now, maybe all the Times is implying is that Weissmann’s a bit of a jerk, which is often part of the job description for a federal prosecutor. (Ever watch “Billions”?) But if so, they should be more explicit about that. Because otherwise, their words become bullets in Trump’s war against Mueller. If an organization as reputable as the Times implies that the Manafort prosecutor is not above reproach and might be up to some funny business, then Trump’s narrative automatically becomes more plausible. With just their isolated description, Trump’s halfway home.
Which leaves us asking “WTF, New York Times”?!
The rest of the Times story is interesting, and depicts a highly unusual–though hardly surprising– arrangement between Trump’s and Manafort’s lawyers. It quotes sources (including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani), who say Manafort lawyer, Kevin Downing, has been in contact with the President’s personal lawyers to discuss what Manafort was discussing with Mueller. The implication being that Manafort–who faces maybe a decade in federal prison for crimes of which he’s already been convicted–is angling for a pardon, and wants to emphasize to the President that even with the plea agreement, he’s not really a rat.
There’s nothing illegal about that, BTW, and it’s pretty standard that defendants with similar interests in a case will share information in order to help them better prepare a response and a defense. What isn’t standard at all is information sharing to continue after one defendant has cut a plea deal that includes cooperating with the government.
Trump has an interest that borders on obsessive: keeping himself at a distance from anything that might smack of “collusion”. And according to the Times, the information he got from Manafort, as presented to Trump’s lawyers (and confirmed in the story by Giuliani) suggests that Mueller may be getting close, and is indeed working on establishing ties between Trump and Russia. And is laser focused on the Trump tower meeting attended by Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump, Jr. Trump’s made it pretty clear he’s not really going to go to the mats for a lot of people in his orbit, including Manafort, who he disavowed knowing very well at all, even though he ran his campaign for months. Also, Trump’s already proven that “strangers” are easy to pardon. But come after Trump himself, or perhaps his family, and you’re looking at a whole other level of fury.
Mueller’s team isn’t saying anything, because Mueller’s team doesn’t say anything. Trump’s saying plenty. And expect him to continue saying plenty. As we started off saying, this could be a real turning point.