Washington D.C., Justice System – After over a year, Special Council Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump administration influencing Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. election still persists, as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was jailed on Friday for witness tampering.
Manafort had earlier pleaded not guilty to a plethora of charges against him, and after 12 counts of indictment since October 2017, he had been forced to wear an electronic monitoring device in home confinement in Virginia. He also pleaded not guilty to witness tampering, but the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, didn’t buy it and revoked his bail, which thereafter sent him to jail. ‘You’ve abused the trust placed in you,’ she told Manafort. He will likely stay in jail until a trial in Washington in September, but he also has another trial for similar charges in Virginia in July. None of the charges, however, involves the two months he was campaign manager for Trump.
The charges include mostly his relationship with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian political party Party of Regions, Kremlin-tied oligarchs, and money laundering. They were highly emphasized in the lawsuit (p. 14) by DNC against the Trump administration, Russia, and Wikileaks. Manafort worked for Yanukovich, Party of Regions and its successors between 2004-2015, and denied ever having worked for them when he testified in June 2017, but admitted eventually to having received $17.1 million by Yanukovich’s party between 2012-2014 and registered as a foreign agent. He’s also reported to have been up to $17 million in debt to Putin-tied oligarch Oleg Deripaska before joining the Trump campaign. A smoking gun for the DNC in Manafort, however, was his connection to Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian soldier believed to be a part of GRU, the Russian military intelligence, which is believed by the FBI to have had contact with Russian intelligence at the time of the 2016 election. The narrative here essentially is that Manafort received some information from Kilimnik, who received information from the Russian government and that the content of this information somehow adds up to a conspiracy. What could such information be? An alternative would be Manafort dealing some kind of quid pro quo with Kilimnik, receiving favors by the Russian government to increase the probability of Trump’s election victory. And how would they do that? Russian internet bots?
The theoretical relationship thus becomes something like this (based on the belief of Kilimnik being a part of the GRU, and the GRU having connections to the Kremlin, both of which must be true for there to be any potential collusion here):
Therefore, using Manafort’s case provides a potential link between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, but without knowing what this information or favors were, it isn’t a strong enough case to prove collusion by itself. The lawsuit includes many other allegations, some of which provide better evidence than the Manafort case, but details about the nature of the relationship between Manafort and Kilimnik could both strengthen and weaken the case by the DNC, depending on what they find. Recall that he also only worked for the campaign in two months, resigning on August 2016, two months before the election, following a report of him possibly having received illegal payments by Yanukovych’s party, so that he managed to play a big part in the hypothetical conspiracy is dubious at best.
Even long after the election, Trump has now signified that he still cares about Manafort, as he never fails to tweet about whom he likes and dislikes.
Very unfair, he calls it, but Manafort hasn’t even been sentenced yet.
Manafort’s legal defense fund has argued that the Mueller investigation is partisan, and his lawyers claim that the evidence for witness tampering is minimal. Mueller’s team will keep trying to get Manafort to plead guilty and file a plea deal, but Manafort hasn’t been proven easy to budge. Former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin told Reuters that ‘Either he can double down in his resolve to fight it or it’s the last straw and it breaks his will and he decides to work out a plea bargain.’
Is there anything other than finance fraud and money laundering Manafort is guilty of? In the words of his daughter, ‘The money we have is blood money.’ If this is true, it could open a pandora’s box of theories of how he has attained all of it.