Special Counsel Robert Mueller agreed today to end Paul Manafort’s house arrest and allow him to go free on bail, as he continues to await trial. This news has puzzled a whole lot of people, both because Manafort has shown no evidence of cooperating, and because Manafort seems likely to continue his crime spree or flee the country or both. But Mueller didn’t let Manafort go today without a good reason that works to his own advantage.
To be clear, the judge in the Paul Manafort case was not involved in this bail initiative, which has been reported today by Politico (link). This is all Robert Mueller’s doing. Mueller doesn’t have anything close to a soft spot when it comes to alleged criminals. He does, however, seem to know when to strategically pull his punches. There are two distinct, equally valid, and essentially opposite, explanations for why Mueller has decided to let Manafort go free
The first would be that Mueller believes Manafort can’t help himself and will go right back to cashing in on highly profitable and highly illegal paydays from foreign enemy governments. After Mueller first informed Manafort that he was going to be indicted, Manafort responded by immediately taking a job with the Kurdish Independence Movement. Mueller allowed it to play out before arresting Manafort, presumably so he could nail him for that crime as well. So Mueller would have good reason to believe that Manafort will go right back to breaking the law, thus allowing Mueller to toss Manafort in prison (no house arrest this time), thus putting Manafort in a more desperate position with regard to cutting a deal.
The second scenario would be that Paul Manafort has indeed begun cooperating by turning over just enough evidence against Donald Trump to buy his own temporary freedom. Robert Mueller has already shown that he knows how to keep these kinds of arrangements secret (see George Papadopoulos). Manafort may have gotten spooked by the Michael Flynn deal and decided to begin partially selling out as well. It may not be a coincidence that Mueller let Manafort out on bail immediately after landing Flynn. As always, Mueller is three steps ahead of the rest of us.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report