Special Counsel Robert Mueller must be surprised by Paul Manafort’s willingness to endure two expensive trials that could lead to a 305-year prison sentence. Most people would run, not walk, to the prosecutor’s office to provide a proffer and plead guilty to lesser charges.
Clearly, Manafort, who has deep ties to Russia, is scared of retaliation for spilling any secrets about what he knows about 2016 election interference. Russia has shown a willingness to exact revenge against anyone that endangers the corrupt Putin regime or its plans. Former Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, who survived a poisoning attempt by Russia, has warned about the emboldened country’s dangerousness. The list of Putin critics who have died either mysteriously or brutally is rather long. Just today, British Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats after Russia’s efforts to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Manafort is justified in believing cooperating with Mueller could have dire consequences for himself, his wife and two daughters. That is why Manafort did not flinch in the face of his business partner Rick Gates becoming a cooperating witness who is now getting gentle treatment from Mueller. So, while the possibility of a pardon from President Donald Trump does still exist, that is unlikely. After all, the current charges Manafort faces are unrelated to potential Russia meddling in the 2016 election. Therefore, Trump is likely to keep his pardon power dry for himself or actual family members should they be indicted. In addition, Trump can’t pardon Manafort from state level charges.
At this point, Mueller has one alternative to get Manafort to flip: place him and his family in the witness protection program. Manafort avoids a lengthy prison sentence, everyone in his family is safe, and Donald Trump’s final line of defense against proving a conspiracy with the Russians is knocked down. Mueller has been very secretive. Maybe the process for that is already underway.
J.H. Norton is a communications professional, life-long Democrat, and married father of two boys living in Washington, D.C.