Manafort Is the Key

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27: Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, arriving to his arraignment in New York County Criminal Court, plead not guilty to state mortgage fraud charges on June 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives to his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court, on June 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

I’ve been waiting for this to come up. According to Murray Waas writing in the New York Review of Books, Rudy’s excellent Ukraine adventure began not as an effort to damage Joe Biden but to discredit the case against Paul Manafort and lay the groundwork for a pardon. It will take a while to suss out the precise order of events and priorities. But this gets us back to the broader issue of Manafort’s role in all this.

In constitutional, legal and political terms the Biden part of this is certainly more important. But in terms of piecing together just what’s going on here, how this all happened, the Manafort part is where to look. Waas reports that Giuliani was trying to discredit the prosecution of Paul Manafort to lay the predicate for a Presidential pardon. So he was working for Trump but also in a sense for Manafort. This confluence is not terribly surprising since Manafort seemed to be calling a lot of the shots on strategy via the joint defense agreement he had with President Trump and others.

But here’s the thing. A lot of these wild theories Giuliani has been spouting (and which have subsequently come out of Trump’s mouth) first show up months or years earlier in Russian propaganda outlets or social media campaigns. It seems a reasonable assumption they begin with Manafort or the channel of people he put Rudy in touch with.

I continue to believe that the best way to see this Ukraine collusion/extortion isn’t as a new effort, a reckless effort to get yet another country to intervene in US elections. It’s really much more a continuation of the Russia story, an effort to discredit the Mueller probe, spring Manafort and turn fire on Democrats and the “Deep State.”

For political and presentational reasons Democrats want to sever this from the Russia story with all its complexity, uncertainty and boiled frogs. As a public communications and clarity matter, that makes sense. But to really understand how we got here this is more an Empire Strikes Back sequel type thing, umbilically connected to the original story and one that makes no sense without it.

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