Of all the people Special Counsel Robert Mueller is known to have indicted or arrested in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal, only one of them – Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort – has refused to cut a plea deal. Manafort is instead insisting on going to trial, and vowing not to help Mueller take down Trump or anyone else involved. The thing is, Mueller has figured out how to use Manafort’s trial to take everyone else down anyway.
Robert Mueller has asked the judge in the Paul Manafort trial to issue to seventy blank subpoenas. Since two are needed to call a witness, it looks like Mueller is planning to haul in thirty-five witnesses against Manafort. Here’s the kicker: Mueller already has a mountain of physical evidence and the cooperation of Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates. Mueller already has Manafort nailed. He doesn’t need thirty-five other witnesses. But that’s the whole point.
Mueller is going to use the Manafort trial to haul in a few dozen other people involved in the Trump-Russia scandal, and interrogate them on the witness stand. Maybe they’ll slip up and confess to their own criminal roles in the scandal. Maybe they’ll lie about their roles under oath, allowing Mueller to nail them for perjury. The point will be to catch as many of them in the act as possible, so he can use it as leverage to force them to flip on the next person up the chain, up to and including Donald Trump himself.
Even if Paul Manafort ends up caving before he gets to trial, the damage is already being done to Donald Trump’s side. Right now everyone connected to the Trump-Russia scandal is lying awake wondering if they’re one of the thirty-five unnamed people who are about to get hauled in for the trial. If some of them recognize it as a no-win situation, they might just go ahead and begin cooperating with Mueller now.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report