Friday brought yet another bombshell in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s case against President Donald Trump’s team. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to crimes including “conspiracy against the United States” and in the process, agreed to cooperate with authorities in any investigation in which his information could prove relevant.
But why? His lawyer Kevin Downing has an apparent answer — concern for his family’s safety. Manafort had, until recently, ardently worked to defend himself against the special counsel. He went so far as to file a lawsuit against the Justice Department alleging that Mueller had overstepped his bounds. (That lawsuit failed.) He remained resolute going into his first trial in Virginia recently — which ended with a declaration that he was guilty of at least eight counts of fraud.
He even sought to tamper with witness testimony, which is what landed him in jail! He had previously been able to remain outside of direct police custody, but then authorities concluded he was trying to control witness testimony, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson faced little choice outside of putting him behind bars.
Now, though, he’s turned his whole stance around.
Friday, his lawyer Kevin Downing explained:
‘Tough day for Mr. Manafort but he’s accepted responsibility and he wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He’s accepted responsibility for conduct that dates back many years — and everybody should remember that.’
The last part of Downing’s statement is no doubt meant as a jab at those who would seek to draw connections between Manafort and the president, but the disgraced political operative was concerned for his family’s safety? Seriously?
Former special counsel for the Department of Defense Ryan Goodman noted:
‘Many have speculated what worried Manafort most, and made him slow to cooperate, was Kremlin’s practice of going after family members of people who turn against them.’
The world has seen evidence of that just recently. Kremlin operatives poisoned U.K. resident Sergei Skripal, who years ago turned out to be working as a double agent inside the Russian government’s ranks — and his daughter, Yulia. Both survived, and the U.K. government has since taken two Russians into custody over the incident, although two other Brits were exposed to the same poison and weren’t so lucky. 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess died and her partner Charlie Rowley was left in critical condition.
There’s another possible aspect of Manafort’s possible concerns about safety that were eased concurrent to his plea deal — finances. Reports circulated surrounding former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s plea deal that he’d been concerned about losing his assets should he go to trial and be found guilty — and so, he pleaded guilty to keep at least some of the family finances intact.
Cohen faced separate charges of tax and bank fraud and campaign finance laws and implicated President Donald Trump himself with his guilty plea over the latter.
Manafort’s crimes are a bit less directly connected to the president, and the Trump team has sought to emphasize that there’s no inherent formal condemnation of the president at play. They can’t escape the fact that he worked for months as Trump’s campaign manager, though.
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