Robert Mueller
Credit: Medill DC/Flickr

I recently wrote that the Trump/Russia probe seemed to have reached the stage where investigators are in the process of flipping witnesses. Part of that assessment was the fact that Robert Mueller hired Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section. Here is how he is described:

A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.

I also referred to an interview Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse did with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in which he suggested that Michael Flynn has probably already been flipped. Whitehouse provided four signs that point in that direction.

All the signals are suggesting [Flynn] is already cooperating with the FBI, and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement, on the statement they took from him at the White House on the Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is get them to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent filings. Third, all of the reporting of the Eastern District of VA on subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He is the hole in a donut of subpoenas…One of the most talkative people in Trumpland [Flynn] has gone absolutely silent. That is exactly what a prosecutor would strongly encourage a cooperating witness to do… in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment.

I was reminded of that second item about going back and cleaning up areas of non-compliance when I read this about former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort:

A consulting firm led by Paul Manafort, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for several months last year, retroactively filed forms Tuesday showing that his firm received $17.1 million over two years from a political party that dominated Ukraine before its leader fled to Russia in 2014.

Manafort disclosed the total payments his firm received between 2012 and 2014 in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing late Tuesday that was submitted to the U.S. Justice Department.

It is also worth noting that three months ago the big news was that Manafort (along with Roger Stone and Carter Page) had volunteered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. We’ve heard nothing about that possibility since then—perhaps indicating that Manafort has also gone silent.

Finally, given reports about Manafort’s participation in money laundering and his connections to Russian mafia figures, it is possible that Mueller’s team now has enough evidence to threaten criminal charges unless he cooperates.

Why would this be important? The Steele dossier puts Manafort at the center of potential charges against the Trump campaign.

The dossier alleges that the Trump campaign made a secret deal with Russia in which Trump “agreed to sideline” the issue of Russian intervention in Ukraine. In return, the document claims, Russia promised to feed the emails it stole from prominent Democrats’ inboxes to WikiLeaks to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

The “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership was managed on the Trump side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort,” the dossier says.

If Manafort testifies honestly (a big if, certainly), that could be the key to finding out whether or not the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the election.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.