On Monday morning, Special Counsel Robert Mueller took definitive moves to ruin Paul Manafort’s life. Manafort is now under house arrest, and he’s facing charges that could prevent him from ever tasting freedom again. Mueller would love to flip Manafort, but this isn’t necessarily how you approach a potential cooperating witness – even a hardened one – if you truly want them to flip. Instead, it’s what you do if you’re trying to send a message.
Mueller just made an example of Manafort for all to see. He humiliated Manafort on national television. He made sure the bulk of the news cycle was about how screwed Manafort is. He made sure the charges included “Conspiracy against the United States,” which makes Manafort sound like a cross between Benedict Arnold and a James Bond villain. This was about utterly destroying Manafort. Yet, just as notably, Mueller made a point of not doing any of those things to Michael Flynn – even though Flynn is facing similar kinds of criminal charges. There’s a reason for that.
Actually, there are two equally valid explanations for what Mueller is doing. The first would be that Mueller is trying to make clear to Flynn what’s about to happen to him if he doesn’t hurry up and cut a deal. The other would be that Mueller has already given Flynn a favorable deal, and although he still has to be arrested, he’s giving Flynn the courtesy of not humiliating him in the process. Either way, the clear upshot is this: Mueller has decided that Flynn is the cooperating witness he really wants against Donald Trump. Why is that?
Part of it is that Michael Flynn is flippable, because he made the mistake of involving his son in his foreign agent crimes, and in the end he’ll decide to try to get his son off the hook. The other part is that Flynn got closer to Donald Trump. He didn’t merely work for the campaign; he worked in Trump’s White House. So even as Mueller crushes Manafort like a grape, it’s Flynn he really wants. Look for that particular domino to fall momentarily.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report