Really Focused on Manafort

Picking up on my earlier post about why Trump’s lawyer appears to be signaling that he fears materials seized from Paul Manafort’s home may incriminate the President, let me say this. It’s quite possible that John Dowd is just being stupid. Or, more specifically, it’s possible Dowd is just sounding up for the benefit of Trump’s political supporters and doesn’t care if his comments make sense in other contexts or might even appear incriminating. Unlike the now semi-canned Marc Kasowitz, he’s a real DC lawyer. He’s also got a reputation as a hothead.  But I want to zoom in on the issue of Paul Manafort.

Manafort’s lawyers have consistently said he is cooperating with the investigation. But everyone says that. What we further know is that the first word about the June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer came from Manafort. He turned over documents – seemingly notes rather than emails – to one of the congressional committees and possibly also directly to the Special Counsel investigation. Don Jr. didn’t. And even though Jared Kushner appears to have subsequently disclosed the meeting in a revised federal filing, that appears to have come after Manafort revealed it.

So Manafort has provided significant leads to the various investigations. But he clearly hasn’t cooperated enough or as much as Mueller would like. Remember, the raid on Manafort’s home came weeks or possibly months after he shared those Trump Tower meetings notes with investigators. Manafort appears to be doing his utmost to both cooperate and conceal. He’s trying a balancing act that Mueller and his investigators want to upend. At a minimum he clearly hasn’t convinced the office of Special Counsel that he wasn’t hiding information and documents. Otherwise, no raid.

Mueller’s team seems to view gaining the cooperation of Manafort as critical to the larger investigation. They have a lot to work with. Manafort appears to have a long list of dubious business transactions that can be used to pressure him. Is Trump worried about that? It certainly sounds like he and his lawyer are. And that strongly suggests that Manafort knows things that could be damaging to Trump. Think about it: if Manafort has been laundering money out of Ukraine for years, why does Trump care? That’s Manafort’s problem. All of the potential bad acts, undeclared earnings, tax evasion, money laundering, whatever – none of those really make a bit of difference to Trump. Unless, Manafort has information to trade against Trump or his family members for leniency.

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