The handwriting was on the wall — or rather, on a note from the Paul Manafort jury to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis at approximately 11 a.m. inquiring what the jury should do if it could not reach a decision on “a single count.” When the verdict finally came in, the jury was hung on 10 counts but convicted on the remaining eight counts relating to tax and bank fraud.
President Trump, even while the unsequestered jury was out, had expressed outrage over Manafort’s trial. He’s a”good man,” Trump said of the man now convicted of swindling millions of dollars from the Treasury and committing multiple counts of bank fraud. Intermittently, Trump would declare that the trial had nothing to do with him and that Manafort was only with the campaign for a short time. “Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time,” he tweeted on June 3 (one of a batch of four tweets that day) regarding the man who ran Trump’s campaign for four critical months, including during the Republican National Convention. While the jury was deliberating, Trump declared that the prosecutors were “enjoying ruining people’s lives.” On August 1 he tweeted:
That was only one of six tweets that day relating to Manafort and/or Robert S. Mueller III’s team. Last Friday, with the jury deliberating, Trump again told the press corps that Manafort was a “very good person.”
Whatever Trump hoped to accomplish by those tweets — or if he simply could not restrain himself — the Manafort conviction comes as a staggering blow to Trump, who repeatedly vouched for Manafort and declared the Mueller investigation to be a witch hunt. Sorry, but the jury convicted a witch today, to borrow Trump’s term.
The anti-corruption group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a statement, which read, “The president’s former campaign chairman has just been convicted of very serious crimes. Paul Manafort engaged in corrupt behavior and illicit self-enrichment for years, and it appears he tried to use the Trump campaign as a way to get out of a major financial hole.” CREW added, “It remains to be seen how many others in the orbit of the Trump campaign and administration are implicated in corrupt conduct; it seems far too prevalent. We applaud the Department of Justice on this important conviction.” And CREW noted, “This is just the latest conviction for Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, as multiple defendants have already pleaded guilty, and it likely will not be the last. This investigation is moving quickly and effectively, and it will continue bringing us closer to the truth.”
In the short run, this may not change much. Manafort is scheduled to begin another trial in September on matters hitting rather close to home — the White House — for Trump. Whereas the judge in Virginia essentially barred any mention of Russia or the Trump campaign, Manafort’s attachments and work for Russian-connected Ukranian oligarchs will be front and center in the next trial. The notion that no one on the campaign had connections to any Russia-related figures likely will be thoroughly debunked.
The question that now must vex Trump is whether Manafort will “flip,” and hence if Trump should pardon him before he gets a chance. There are many reasons why pardoning Manafort would be a disaster. For one thing, he could still be subpoenaed to testify and be subject to perjury charges if he lies under oath. (You cannot pardon someone prospectively.) Once pardoned, Manafort would lose the Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify on the grounds it would incriminate him. Moreover, a Manafort pardon would cement in the minds of many Americans — including the prosecutors — that Trump is bent on covering up something relating to Russia. If Trump tried to do this before the midterms, a firestorm would ensue, putting at risk many more congressional Republican (who have never stood up to the president).
This doesn’t mean Trump won’t pardon Manafort. He does many things that are self-destructive. It does mean, however, that his own legal peril deepens. Well, at least he doesn’t have to worry about his lawyer Michael Cohen flipping. Oh, wait. Cohen is pleading guilty to eight counts, including two relating to campaign finance violations. Yup, today is Trump’s worst day ever.