On Monday evening we learned that while the jury was still out in the first Paul Manafort trial, Manafort and his attorneys were already trying to negotiate a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We also know that Mueller wasn’t willing to give Manafort the kind of deal he was seeking. This certainly changes the entire Mueller-Manafort dynamic, and for that matter, the Manafort-Trump dynamic. With so many things moving so quickly, here’s what happens next.
Robert Mueller has rejected Paul Manafort’s requested plea deal terms for a reason. Considering that Manafort is nearly seventy years old, he’s surely seeking a short prison sentence. By not giving it to him, Mueller is making clear that he doesn’t need Manafort’s cooperation all that badly. Mueller has reached the point here he’s handing out immunity to people like David Pecker and Allen Weisselberg, so it’s not as if Mueller is simply being a prude here. Yet now that Manafort has signaled that he wants a deal, that reality isn’t going away.
Mueller very quickly has to decide whether to retry Manafort for the ten deadlocked felony charges from the first trial. There’s no predicting what Mueller will choose to do here, but keep two things in mind. First, the eight felony convictions will stand whether Mueller retries the other ten charges or not; Manafort could only try to get those overturned in appeals court. Second, Manafort is set to go on trial for a number of Russia-related charges in about three weeks.
In other words, Mueller is now playing with house money when it comes to Manafort. If he can go into this next trial and get Manafort convicted on a bunch more felonies, it could motivate Manafort to simply take whatever deal Mueller is offering. It’s also worth considering that this second Manafort trial will closely connect him to the Kremlin, including the Russian oligarch he was deeply indebted to while he was running the Donald Trump campaign. Mueller may view the second Manafort trial as a way of putting Trump on trial by proxy for conspiring with the Russians. So Mueller could decide to look past the ten deadlocked charges, in favor of focusing on the upcoming Russia-related trial.
The bottom line is this: we don’t know precisely what Robert Mueller is trying to get out of this, or at what point he might be willing to give Paul Manafort the kind of plea deal he’s seeking. We do know that Manafort is looking for deal. So if this second trial goes poorly for Manafort, don’t be shocked if Manafort takes whatever deal is on the table.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report