So who ratted out John Dowd and his offers or hints of offers of pardons to Trump’s top aides who found themselves in Robert Mueller’s crosshairs? I think we can make a pretty solid educated guess.
Today is March 28th. As I noted earlier, the Times says it had “contacted [Trump’s lawyers] repeatedly over several weeks” asking about whether the President and his lawyers had suggested the offer of pardons to Manafort, Flynn, possibly others. Webster’s defines “several” as “more than two but fewer than many.” Sort of vague but let’s say three to six as a ballpark? So three to six weeks ago.
Anything of note happen in that timeframe? Well, it so happens that just shy of five weeks ago, February 23rd, Rick Gates cut his deal with Bob Mueller.
It seems quite likely that Manafort either discussed these offers with Gates (after all, they were originally fighting this as a team) or the offer was made to Gates as well. Perhaps, in fact quite likely, Manafort would have relayed the offer. After all, the value of Manafort staying quiet would be heavily undercut if Gates talked. He’d need to get the offer too.
So Gates makes his deal, shares this information with Bob Mueller and then Mueller’s investigators go to Flynn to try to get confirmation. Flynn’s cooperating. So he needs to answer. I don’t think Manafort’s attorneys need to answer that. Certainly, Manafort doesn’t. But Flynn has to cooperate and tell the truth. Pretty quickly Mueller et al. can confirm that these offers (hints of offers at least) were made. The Times seems to get wind of it around the same time. There are lots of players other than Mueller’s team they could have heard this from.
Remember that these offers would have had to have been made many months ago, before Flynn’s deal (12/1/2017) and before the charges against Manafort (10/30/2017). So how did the Times just catch wind of it? Again, Gates. Maybe not directly because of Gates’ cooperation with Mueller.
Remember too that this overlaps with the time that Mueller has been negotiating with Cobb, Dowd et al about a presidential interview. This question of pardons may well have shown up in discussions about what they wanted to ask.
In any case, lots of possibilities about how the Times found out. Trump himself may even have blabbed. But I think we can be pretty confident that we know one of Mueller’s first big gets from Gates’ cooperation.