Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a federal grand jury going against Paul Manafort, and he’s reached the point where he’s hauling in Manafort’s direct underlings to testify (link). That’s essentially the last step. Ask any prosecutor, and they’ll tell you they can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. In other words, Paul Manafort is about to be indicted. Here’s what comes next, and how it will relate to the investigation of Donald Trump.
In the immediate term, the felony indictment of Paul Manafort will mean that he’ll have to stand before a judge, plead guilty or not guilty, get a trial date, and be given the opportunity to post bail (unless the judge sees him as a flight risk to one of the countries that was funding him all along). In other words, we’ll be entering the second half-hour of the proverbial Law & Order episode. But in the big picture, what matters is how this development will relate to Trump.
Manafort will be forced to make a relatively quick decision as to whether he wants to flip on Trump in exchange for a deal, or go ahead with a trial. If it’s the former, it means Mueller will have a coveted first-hand witness willing to rat out Trump for his various political and financial crimes. Not only was Manafort the Trump campaign chair, he also appears to have had financial entanglements with Trump going back years. If it’s the latter, Trump will have to decide whether to try pardon Manafort.
Practically speaking, pardoning Manafort would be political suicide for Trump. It was one thing for him to pardon racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose crimes had no connection to Trump. If Trump begins pardoning his own co-conspirators in the Russia scandal, most of the public will take that as an admission of guilt. There are also two wildcards to watch out for when it comes to Mueller’s pursuit of Manafort and pardons.
The first is that there has been some confirmation Mueller is working with the New York Attorney General to bring state level charges against Manafort, which cannot be pardoned by the president. If New York brings a parallel indictment against Manafort, he’ll have to decide whether to flip or go to prison. The second is that some legal experts expect Mueller will have a grand jury name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator at some point, to limit Trump’s ability to even pardon federal crimes. Will this be the grand jury that drags Trump directly into it?
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report