We’re now just hours away from the start of the first of two federal trials that Paul Manafort is set to face in 2018. Manafort and his lawyers have lost every motion they’ve filed to get evidence and charges thrown out, meaning that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is free to bring the house against him. Mueller’s witness list has surfaced, and almost none of the names relate to the Trump-Russia scandal. That means there’s bound to be some disappointment on the part of those who are hoping that the Manafort trial will somehow cause Donald Trump to fall through a trap door. But it’s important to keep in mind the one big thing that we’re all going to be tempted to overlook.
Robert Mueller has one goal with this trial: to get Paul Manafort to cut a plea deal against Donald Trump as swiftly as possible. That’s not going to be accomplished by using the witness stand to tie Manafort to Trump. Don’t worry, we’ll see some of that by proxy when Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates – who has already cut a plea deal against Trump – takes the stand. But Gates aside, the quickest way to convince Manafort to give up is to present the kind of ironclad criminal prosecution that’ll make clear to him that he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison.
We’ve already seen Robert Mueller slip a number of incriminating Trump-Russia details into his court filings, to the extent that we believe he’s doing it on purpose in order to educate the public about Donald Trump’s guilt. We’ve also seen the media conveniently get its hands on information about Mueller’s investigative plans at just the right time, suggesting that he’s been strategically feeding certain storylines to the media, even as some observers continue to insist that he would never dare to do such a thing.
In other words, Robert Mueller has plenty of other ways of getting the truth out there to the public about Donald Trump’s crimes. When it comes to the Paul Manafort trial, it’s all about convincing Manafort that he’s screwed. That’s why the witness list is chock full of people who can testify about Manafort’s decades of serious financial crimes. Such things are comparatively quick and easy to demonstrate, thus increasing the odds that Manafort folds quickly. The sooner Manafort flips on Trump, the sooner Mueller can take Trump down.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report