Special Counsel Robert Mueller
Credit: James Ledbetter/Flickr

While jurors in the Paul Manafort trial in Virginia were deliberating, the Wall Street Journal reports that his lawyers were talking to the special counsel’s team.

Paul Manafort’s defense team held talks with prosecutors to resolve a second set of charges against the former Trump campaign chairman before he was convicted last week, but they didn’t reach a deal, and the two sides are now moving closer to a second trial next month, according to people familiar with the matter…

The plea talks on the second set of charges stalled over issues raised by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, one of the people said. It isn’t clear what those issues were, and the proposed terms of the plea deal couldn’t immediately be determined…

The talks were aimed at forestalling a second, related trial for Mr. Manafort, which is scheduled to begin on Sept. 17 in Washington.

In other words, Manafort—who faces spending the rest of his life in prison—attempted to reach a plea deal with Mueller’s prosecutors. Notice that the talks stalled over issues raised by Mueller. That’s all we know, so it’s probably not wise to speculate too much. But it sure looks like Manafort wasn’t willing to come clean with all he knows about the topics being investigated by the special counsel.

We’ve also learned that Michael Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, is backtracking on what his client knows about the Trump campaign’s conspiracy with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Davis is taking the blame and suggesting that he was merely speculating about what his client knew. Aaron Blake isn’t buying that.

Davis is a lawyer for his client, not a pundit. He can speak to Cohen about sensitive matters. His job is literally to speak publicly for Cohen, and getting their story straight is Job No. 1. The idea that Davis was simply freelancing with a narrative he hadn’t run by his client just doesn’t ring true. And if he was, how has Cohen not fired him for so clearly botching his defense?…

The most obvious answer would seem to be that Cohen may be the one contradicting himself.

I’ve been saying all along that I was suspicious about what Cohen has been up to in leaking information he might know about the Trump-Russia probe. This just confirms that. Both he and Manafort think that they can play Mueller and not relay what they actually know as the men who most likely managed the conspiracy with Russia all along. In Cohen’s case, he thought he could throw out some bones to the public (while setting up a GoFundMe page to raise money for his legal defense) and avoid getting to the heart of the matter.

I am reminded of something Michael Caputo said after being interviewed by Mueller’s team.

I was in the Senate Intelligence Committee with their investigators Tuesday, and they were still fishing around. They reminded me of net fishing. They’re just throwing things out there hoping they can get something in. If we’re working with a fishing metaphor, I’d say the Mueller team is spearfishing. They believe they know where they’re going, not asking a wide range of questions that seem to be unrelated. They know exactly what they are looking for and they have emails backing it up. And I don’t think that they ask any questions that they don’t already know the answer to…I don’t recall in that whole three hour period where they asked a question that they did not already know the answer.

If Caputo is to be believed, Mueller wouldn’t be talking to Manafort or Cohen if he didn’t already have the goods on them via a paper trail and/or testimony from others. He’s at the top of the food chain now and has the story pretty much locked down. They can either cooperate or go to jail for a very long time. Of course people like Manafort and Cohen are going to do everything they can to avoid choosing between those two fates. But I suspect that, in the end, they’ll learn that Robert Mueller can’t be played.

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