Manafort’s Strategy: A Pardon

FILE - In this July 17, 2016 file photo, Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, Sunday, in Cleveland.  Republican Donald Trump announced a shakeup of his campaign leadership Wednesday, the latest sign of tumult in his bid for the White House as his poll numbers slip and only 82 days remain before the election.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
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A former federal prosecutor with highly relevant experience weighs in on what we learned from yesterday. Upshot: Manafort’s strategy is a pardon.

Some thoughts on the Special Counsel’s actions yesterday. First, what stands out to me is the hammer Mueller dropped on Manafort and Gates. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines are what federal judges use to determine sentences in federal criminal cases. The guidelines for money laundering can be quite severe as white collar crime goes. By my rough calculation, based on $18 million in allegedly laundered funds, Manafort is looking at a 151-188 month guideline range assuming he doesn’t plead guilty. There may be other enhancements as well that could factor in depending on how the evidence plays out (e.g., obstruction). There is no parole in the federal system, so he would have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence. So he’s likely looking at least at 10.5 years (and likely more)…unless he cooperates or gets a pardon. And if you get more than 10 years in the federal system, you may not be eligible for a minimum security institution (i.e., Club Fed).

That brings me to my second point. Why unseal the cooperation deal with Papadopoulos at the same time as the Manafort/Gates indictment? I think it’s clear that Mueller and his team are deliberately sending an unmistakable message: if you cooperate with us, you will get a break. And if you don’t, we will drop the hammer. Mercy or wrath, your choice. The case against Manafort and Gates seems very strong. It’s a devastating paper case and brings to mind the old adage: pigs get fed and hogs get slaughtered. This is just shameless greed at a high level. A DC jury is going to crush these guys. Manafort had a chance to play ball and cooperate, but refused. Therefore, he invited a full onslaught by the Special Counsel on him and his business partner. I suspect the substantive value of Papadopoulos’s cooperation will ultimately be less significant than what may be the overheated reaction to it currently would suggest. However, I think its real value is as a sign of investigative momentum and as a strong message to other potential cooperators. Hence the timing of the unsealing.

Lastly, given the apparent strength of the case against Manafort, he’s really only got two options to avoid spending a significant amount of time in jail: cooperate or get a pardon/sentence commutation. His lawyer’s statements yesterday sucking up to Trump suggest strongly to me that he is playing for a pardon or commuted sentence. The very real possibility of Trump going that direction is a real problem for Mueller and potentially saps his leverage.

Anyone who cares about seeing justice done here should be pressuring the White House to take pardons and sentence commutations off the table for this investigation. I think Trump is probably impervious to that type of pressure, nor will he be deterred from engaging in obvious obstruction of justice, but what I’ll call the “pro-justice lobby” on the Hill and elsewhere needs to push this narrative.

I would add this clip from a story out tonight in Bloomberg about more developments in the Papadopoulos story.

“Mr. Manafort’s swift action reflects the attitude of the campaign — any invitation by Russia, directly or indirectly, would be rejected outright,” Maloni said in a written statement. “His request that the response come from a low-level staffer sent a clear signal that the invitation did not merit consideration. This is concrete evidence the Russia collusion narrative is fake news.”

This TPM Reader knows much more about this. But the logic makes sense to me. Manafort’s spokesman and lawyers are tightly mimicking the President’s message: fake news, no collusion, no obstruction. Not a hint of daylight.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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