It took Special Counsel Robert Mueller a year and a half, an arrest, dozens of criminal charges and superseding indictments, house arrest, one jail, another jail, a jury trial, eight felony convictions, almost another trial, and a surprise cooperating plea deal to finally get on the same page. Now, thanks to the same quirky judge who keeps making things more complicated than they need to be, things have now gotten weird for new pals Mueller and Manafort.
The way Robert Mueller likes to do things in the Trump-Russia scandal is to cut a plea deal with someone, then put that person’s evidence and testimony to good use for quite awhile, and then come back and decide what kind of sentence to give that person. Case in point: Michael Flynn cut a plea deal near the end of 2017, and he’s just now been referred for sentencing. Considering that Paul Manafort appears to have the goods on Donald Trump and his family, one might expect that Manafort might not get sentenced until after Trump is ousted.
But that’s not what Federal Judge and cranky cartoon character T.S. Ellis wants to hear. He’s decided that Mueller and Manafort have to appear in court on October 19th to explain to him what’s going on. Considering that Mueller and Manafort are now totally on the same page, it’s frankly weird for the judge to be this insistent about upsetting the apple cart – but if there’s one thing Ellis showed us during Manafort’s trial, it’s that he’s weird. So what’s going to come of this?
That’s tough to say. The judge may force Robert Mueller to make an immediate decision about whether to retry Paul Manafort for the ten deadlocked charges from the first trial, but that’s not a big deal. Mueller can let those go, and if he feels he needs to keep leverage to hang over Manafort’s head in case he gets any funny ideas, Mueller can still threaten to move ahead with the second trial – which would take place far, far away from Judge McWackadoodle. The bigger question is whether the judge will truly force a prompt sentencing hearing while Manafort is still cooperating. But with Mueller and Manafort now attached at the hip, there’s no reason to expect this would ruin their newfound partnership; they just might have to get creative.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report