Did Mueller Just Initiate a Mini Bench Trial on the Russia Conspiracy Case?

After a jury in Northern Virginia found Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts, he faced a second trial in the District of Columbia on related charges that could lead to ten years in prison. At that point, Trump’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty, agreeing to cooperate fully with Robert Mueller’s investigation. On Monday, the special counsel and Manafort’s attorneys released a status report on that agreement.

Prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said Monday that Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement, accusing President Trump’s former campaign chairman of lying repeatedly to them in their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Manafort denied doing so intentionally, but both sides agreed in a court filing that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District should set sentencing immediately.

Those are the facts, which led to a flurry of speculation. A pressing question that arose is why Manafort would lie. The most obvious answer is that he expects a pardon from the president. But many of the charges could still be filed in state court, where Trump has no power to pardon. It is also important to keep this in mind:

But this move by Mueller could be about much more than where Manafort spends the rest of his life. Jeffrey Toobin explains.

One of the ways Trump broadcasts whether or not something has unnerved him is via tweets he sends out during his morning “executive time.” It sure looks like Toobin nailed in last night.

The idea that Mueller knows enough about the facts of this case to accuse Manafort of lying is reminiscent of what Michael Caputo reported about his experience with the special prosecutor.

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.

Where would the special counsel be getting the facts/documents to prove that Manafort lied? We now know that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is not only cooperating with state and federal law enforcement entities who are investigating Trump’s family businesses and foundation, he’s been meeting regularly with the Mueller team. If the Steele Dossier is accurate, it states clearly that Paul Manafort was the person who originally coordinated the conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. When he was fired, that responsibility fell to Michael Cohen.

But the really explosive news in all of this comes right from the status report itself. Given that Mueller has accused Manafort of violating his plea agreement, there will be a sentencing hearing for a judge to determine whether or not that is the case. The special counsel writes that, “The government will file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement herein.” This lawyer on twitter isn’t the only one to catch what that means, I just appreciate her/his style.

If these folks are right and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agrees to the hearing, we could see a public airing of what Mueller has on Manafort sometime in February, and there is nothing Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker can do to stop it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .