Opinion writer

In a weird way, you have to admire Paul Manafort. If you were under house arrest and had the federal government watching your every move, would you have the chutzpah to commit more crimes?

That’s just the kind of initiative that must have attracted him to Donald Trump, and it’s what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is now asserting:

Federal prosecutors accused former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort of witness tampering late Monday in his criminal case and asked a federal judge to consider revoking or revising his release.

Prosecutors accused Manafort and a longtime associate they linked to Russian intelligence of repeatedly contacting two members of a public relations firm and asking them to falsely testify about secret lobbying they did at Manafort’s behest.

The charge is that Manafort attempted to suborn perjury by asking some associates of his to testify falsely that when he worked with them on behalf of the government of Ukraine some years ago, the work wasn’t in the United States but was instead aimed at lobbying European governments. The problem Manafort faces is that among the crimes he’s accused of are violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act; Manafort was acting as an agent of the Ukrainian government but never registered.

This is just one of the many, many crimes Manafort is accused of committing. His deputy, Rick Gates, is already cooperating with Mueller, and one of the great unanswered questions is why Manfort himself hasn’t flipped yet given the evidence against him. One theory is that Manafort has done business with some extremely dangerous characters, and he may fear that if he tells everything he knows, then he or his family could wind up dead.

Does this have anything to do with the Trump campaign? The answer is that we just don’t know. Manafort’s work for Ukraine had ended by the time he joined the Trump campaign; his Ukrainian client, at-one-time-president and Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in 2014 and fled to Russia. But the person who was helping Manafort in this alleged witness-tampering scheme appears to be his longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national with possible ties to Russian intelligence who was still in contact with Manafort during the campaign.

Before we get too far down that rabbit hole, let me draw your attention to these two tweets that the president sent by sheer coincidence on Sunday, the day before Mueller filed the motion accusing Manafort of witness tampering:

So you see, it’s really the FBI’s fault that Trump hired Manafort. How dare they!

Which brings us to this question: How on earth did all these criminals get so close to a fine, upstanding citizen such as Donald Trump? It’s a real mystery, isn’t it?

The fact that Trump hired Manafort is one of the craziest parts of the entire Russia scandal. Manafort was known in Washington as the lobbyist you’d go to if you were a foreign dictator with a brutal human rights record, but he hadn’t worked on a campaign in years. And he volunteered to run Trump’s campaign without pay, an absolutely bizarre offer that to any ordinary candidate would have raised enormous red flags. As we now know, Manafort was deeply in debt, suggesting that this apparently generous offer to Trump hid some other way that Manafort planned to use the Trump campaign to rid himself of his financial troubles.

If Trump wondered about why Manafort made him this offer, it didn’t seem to bother him. Perhaps it was just personal; Trump was a client of Manafort’s firm Black, Manafort, & Stone (yes, that’s Roger Stone) in the 1980s and 1990s, and Manafort had an apartment in Trump Tower. Or perhaps Manafort’s connections to dictators and oligarchs in the former Soviet Union actually made Trump feel more comfortable with him, because Trump had spent years dealing with those same kind of people and taking their money.

Either way, anyone with political sense or a desire to avoid anything smelling of criminality wouldn’t have gotten within a mile of Paul Manafort, let alone appointed him to run their campaign. And Manafort is hardly the only Trump associate about whom you could say that. Just look at Michael Cohen, Trump’s “personal attorney.” It has become clear that Cohen is either going to flip on Trump or he’s going to be spending a very long time behind bars. Even before he went into Trump’s employ, Cohen’s entire career had taken place in suspiciously close proximity to organized crime, including crime involving Russian and Ukrainian mobsters. Yet upon meeting Cohen, Trump said to himself: This is a guy I want to do business with.

It keeps happening to Trump again and again:

• Why did his national security adviser turn out to be the kind of guy who would be working for a foreign government without reporting it and who would later lie to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians?

• Why would Trump take on career criminals as business partners?

• Why would Trump bring on as a foreign policy adviser a person whom Russian intelligence had tried to recruit?

• Why is an international mercenary setting up secret meetings to establish a “back channel” between Moscow and the Trump administration?

• Why do so many sketchy Slavs see Trump properties as the perfect vehicle for money laundering?

• Why do so many Trump properties implode amid charges of corruption and mismanagement?

• Why do so many of Trump’s international partners turn out to be the most corrupt people in their respective countries?

That all couldn’t possibly say something about Donald Trump himself. Could it?