Having spent every day of the past two years analyzing and reporting on Donald Trump’s actions, I feel fairly confident when it comes to interpreting his any given move. I may never comprehend how any human can be the way that he is, but at the least, I usually know what he’s up to. It’s trickier to try to read Trump’s fellow sociopath Paul Manafort, who spent far less time in the spotlight. But it’s nonetheless crucial to figure out why he’s now trying to make one last legally questionable cash grab on the eve of his absolutely certain demise.
Paul Manafort now has precisely two choices: he can flip on Donald Trump, or he can die in prison. There is no third option. He’s not beating these overwhelming criminal charges in court. Trump can’t pardon him on state crimes. There’s no way to predict with certainty which option he’ll choose, because none of us has ever gotten an intimate look at his particular brand of broken psyche. We know him mostly in the third person. We’ve learned about him based on the puppet strings he pulled on Trump when he was running the campaign, and based on what’s been reported about him. But for now he’s trying to carve out a very weird third option that doesn’t exist.
Presumably out of money, and never having had any allegiance to the United States to begin with, Manafort is now taking money from Kurdish rebels to help them with their independence referendum in Iraq (link). He can try to get away with it by registering as a foreign agent. But even then he may run into legal trouble, because the U.S. government officially opposes the referendum in question. He’s taking money from a foreign quasi-governmental entity in exchange for working against the interests of the United States. Good luck selling anyone on the legality of that. But what’s he up to?
Whether it’s days, weeks, or months from now, Paul Manafort will still have to decide whether to flip on Donald Trump or to spend the rest of his life in prison. So why is he stalling for the sake of one last cash grab? Maybe he’s trying to score one last payday before flipping, because he figures he’ll be unhireable after that. Maybe he thinks the Feds will let him keep the money if he gives them the info they want. Or maybe he’s trying to put some money away for his kids before he goes off to prison forever. He’s tough to read. But in the end he still only has the two choices.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report