Of all the various players in the Trump-Russia scandal, Paul Manafort was always the most likely to insist on going to trial instead of cutting a plea deal. Manafort is wealthier, more stubborn, and more reckless than just about anyone else involved. So why did Special Counsel Robert Mueller decide that Manafort would be the first major player he arrested? We’ve long wondered if it’s because Mueller wanted a trial, so he could use it to expose the other people involved.
This week Mueller busted Manafort for attempting to tamper with multiple witnesses against him. This seemed inevitable, considering that Manafort was previously caught trying to use an op-ed to taint the jury pool. Mueller didn’t fight to try to get Manafort’s house arrest and travel privileges revoked, and maybe this was why. Manafort was given enough rope to hang himself, and sure enough, he’s also roped in other people.
We know that Paul Manafort began his witness tampering efforts in February, and that he was eventually caught when Mueller got ahold of Manafort’s cloud backup of his encrypted app. It’s not yet clear precisely when Robert Mueller caught Manafort. But now CNBC is reporting that in April, Mueller began demanding that Trump-Russia witnesses turn over their phones so he could see if they’ve been using encrypted apps to communicate as well. Sure enough, these witnesses have cooperated.
It sounds like, once Mueller caught Manafort in the act with these apps, he then asked to see the phones of all the Manafort witnesses. That left them with little option but to comply, because for all they knew, Mueller might have already had their conversations from Manafort’s end anyway. So now Mueller gets to see all the communications that these witnesses have had with Manafort and/or anyone else involved, all because Manafort was reckless and got busted. If other Trump-Russia suspects have also tried to tamper with these witnesses, Mueller now has them nailed as well.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report