When the news broke yesterday that Robert Mueller had caught Paul Manafort using encrypted communications like WhatsApp to try to tamper with the witnesses against him, I was in the midst of a conversation about a different matter with an expert on internet security. I told him that Manafort’s WhatsApp communications had been seized. He told me that shouldn’t be technologically possible. Then I told him that Manafort had backed up his WhatsApp conversations to the cloud. His response: “What an idiot!”
It’s a mistake that you or I could easily have made without realizing it, if we were trying to communicate clandestinely online while committing crimes, because we’re not internet security experts. How are any of us supposed to know that you don’t back up your encrypted communications apps? But if any of us were in Paul Manafort’s situation, you can bet that we’d have the sense to check with experts first, to make sure we weren’t screwing it up and throwing our lives away in the process.
Manafort didn’t do that. He’s likely spending millions of dollars on his attorneys. He’s bet his life on the notion that he can beat these charges at trial. But apparently he couldn’t be bothered to hire a tech expert who could help him avoid getting caught red handed in his efforts to tamper with the witnesses against him. I’d imagine it’s harder to find tech experts who want to take the risk of providing advice to an indicted guy like Manafort who’s under house arrest, but those types surely must exist in the same moral gutter that Manafort has spent his life living in.
But Paul Manafort didn’t do that. He made the incredibly sloppy mistake of committing crimes over the internet using an encrypted app, and he couldn’t be bothered to make sure he was using it correctly. Manafort was supposed to have been the the relative brains of the Trump-Russia plot. He managed to rise to campaign chairman and campaign manager while getting rich off Kremlin money. But it turns out he’s just a garden variety stupid criminal who got caught in comical fashion. All these guys are, from Donald Trump on down. It’s why they won’t get away with it in the end.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report