FILE – In this July 17, 2016 file photo, Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland as Rick Gates listens at back left. Emails obtained by The Associated Press shed new light on the activities of a firm run by Donald Trump’s campaign chairman. They show it directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country’s pro-Russian government. Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
One of the central premises of Mueller’s investigation, to the extent there are any beyond “count coup and take scalps,” is that the Trump campaign worked hand-in-glove with Russian intelligence to defeat Hillary Clinton. The key player in the whole drama is Paul Manafort. There are other bit players, like Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, who saw attaching themselves, remora-like, to the Trump campaign as their ticket to the big leagues, but Manafort was the villain sent directly from Central Casting. He acts shady. His friends, acquaintances, and business associates act shady. You could easily see him giving a mob enforcer the orders to whack someone who displeased him. He was the PR guy for tyrants and despots. He appears to have been actively involved in money laundering for the Russian mob. And yet, Manafort had held senior positions in the presidential campaigns of Ford, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bob Dole before joining the Trump team.
In a just-made-public filing in Manafort’s legal assault on the special counsel and his indictments, there is an interesting admission:
As Mollie Hemingway notes, Manafort has been the target of a large number of government leaks that painted him as the pivot man in this particular circle jerk.
Phone records and intercepted calls show repeated contact between Trump associates and senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials who were leaking secretly to The New York Times because they said the investigation was classified. The article was illustrated with a picture of Manafort and claimed, “The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort.”
“Before signing up with Donald Trump, former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” the Associated Press reported on March 22, 2017.
The Associated Press also reported on March 23, 2017, an “Exclusive: US Probe of Ex-Trump Aide Extends to Cyprus,” which quoted “a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly” related to a “request from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.”
Someone with knowledge of the special counsel’s scope told the Associated Press that the inquiry into the Trump campaign and the Russian government was taking over a criminal probe of Manafort, according to the June 3, 2017, story, “Special Counsel’s Trump Investigation Includes Manafort Case.”
CNN reported on August 4, 2017, that “One Year Into the FBI’s Russia Investiation, Mueller Is On The Trump Money Trail.” In this story, “current and former U.S. officials briefed on the investigation” said that “intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence.” They turned up “intercepted communications appearing to show efforts by Russian operatives to coordinate with Trump associates on damaging Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, officials said. CNN has learned those communications included references to campaign chairman Paul Manafort.” The story also calimed that “The suspect operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Mr. Manafort, encoraging help from the Russians.”
Not to mention, Christoper Steele fingering Manafort as the ringleader of collusion in his dossier:
Speaking in con?dence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source B, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate?s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, whom President PUTIN apparently both hated and feared.
The admission by the government that they have no evidence of Manafort being in communications with Russian intelligence is a huge data point in the Russia collusion matter–and while the government can decline to disclose classified information pertaining to a Brady request, it cannot deny the existence of that information. It says that the string of leaks about Manafort’s Russia ties were manufactured. One can only guess at the motives, but given the actions of former CIA director John Brennan and former DNI James Clapper as key boosters of the Russia collusion nonsense, it isn’t hard to imagine these leaks being made to create the atmosphere necessary for a special counsel to be appointed. If Manafort, the former linchpin in the entire conspiracy, had no contacts with Russian intelligence operatives then the entire premise of Mueller’s probe falls apart.
This may give Trump the excuse he needs to bring this to a close but I imagine it will probably end up being cold comfort for Manafort because, and IANAL, I can’t see a judge throwing out the indictments based on this.