Last week the judge in the Paul Manafort trial announced a mysterious one week delay in the proceedings, which neither side objected to, while not explaining why it was happening. Several political and legal observers pointed out that these were possible signs of plea deal negotiations. We still don’t know if any such negotiations took place, but if they did, it certainly didn’t result in a deal – because the trial proceedings are back underway. So now what?
Manafort is actually facing two different federal trials, because the numerous criminal charges against him were brought in two different districts, Northern Virginia and Washington DC. The first of his two trials is scheduled to start just days from now. We should quickly see Special Counsel Robert Mueller filing one brief after another which will lay out much of the evidence against Manafort. Of course most observers will be watching to see how that evidence impacts Donald Trump.
Paul Manafort has ties to the Kremlin that run deep and long, and he also has some financial ties to Trump. For instance Manafort bought an apartment in Trump Tower. But most of Manafort’s various criminal charges don’t directly relate to the Trump-Russia plot to rig the election. It’s not entirely clear how quickly the action will get to the part about Manafort having tried to use his position as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman to erase his massive financial debt to a Russian oligarch, or how Manafort was conspiring with a Russian government spy to tamper with Trump-Russia witnesses.
The bottom line is that while the Paul Manafort trial may not produce legal proof that Donald Trump was directly conspiring with Russia during the election, you can look for Robert Mueller to use his various filings to spell out large chunks of Trump’s complicity. Manafort will spend the rest of his life in prison no matter how Mueller presents his case, so Mueller can get as creative as he wants when it comes to indirectly making this about Trump. Think of this as Mueller putting Trump on trial by proxy. We don’t know precisely how Mueller will play this, but more importantly, neither does Trump.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report