Credit: Donald Trump (wikimedia commons)

Today brings news that investigators and federal prosecutors are putting the pressure on Paul Manafort to flip on his employers, including potentially the Donald Trump campaign.

U.S. investigators examining money laundering accusations against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort hope to push him to cooperate with their probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is examining Manafort’s financial and real estate records in New York as well as his involvement in Ukrainian politics, the officials said.

Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three New York properties, including one in Trump Tower in Manhattan. He paid for them in full and later took out mortgages against them. A former senior U.S. law enforcement official said that tactic is often used as a means to hide the origin of funds gained illegally. Reuters has no independent evidence that Manafort did this.

The sources also did not say whether Mueller has uncovered any evidence to charge Manafort with money laundering, but they said doing so is seen by investigators as critical in getting his full cooperation in their investigation.

Manafort has by far the most exposure to this pressure given his shady history and connections, but he’s not the only one. There are lesser figures from all over the Trump universe, including Michael Flynn, who could theoretically be flipped. Even Trump’s own family is implicated, especially Jared Kushner–though obviously the likelihood of family turning on the pater familias is low.

This is one of the reasons that Trump seems to be coming apart at the seams. It only takes one of his associates flipping for everything to unravel irreparably.

Of course, Trump could simply issue a blanket pardon to all of them and take the prospect of punishment off the table. But that would set up a cascade of dominoes that not even a man as reckless as Trump is prepared to set in motion. It’s true that Republicans seem unlikely to do anything about it should Trump decide to go down that path, but the question has never been tested before in American history, and the risks are high. If nothing else, the Republican Congress would have all the leverage over Trump for the rest of his presidency: cross them, and they can impeach. This is an uncomfortable prospect on several levels.

Instead, Trump could simply demand that all his subordinates hold firm, with a promise that he will take care of them.

But this is where Trump’s famous lack of loyalty to those from whom he demands loyalty hurts him. A criminal president with connections who takes care of his own could assure his henchmen of a pardon on his way out of office should they clam up, remain true to him and fall on their swords. He could assure them of a quiet, plum gig once it’s all over.

Trump cannot do that, however. No one of sound mind would believe a Trump promise to be there for them with a pardon on the other side of a conviction. Trump’s lack of real connections and respect in either the business or policy world means that he can’t assure his underlings of dignity and highly paid employment in exchange for their loyalty.

Manafort and crew will know this intrinsically, and each will be looking askance at the other to see who will sing first–which means the clock is ticking down on Trump to issue a few pardons, despite the cataclysmic consequences such an action would entail.

It’s a pressure cooker set to explode in ugly ways.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.