There's no doubt now that former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is cooperating with both Senate Judiciary Committee investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. Whether this means Manafort has cut a deal, we don't know yet. But the Trump regime is definitely treating Manafort like somebody who ratted out their guilty boss, and they can't backstab him quickly enough in front of the press.
President Donald Trump would have you believe that Paul Manafort wasn’t all that involved with his campaign, and for good reason: Behind the scenes, Trump’s aides fume that the former campaign chairman is at least partially responsible for the president’s deepening legal woes.
“I know Mr. Manafort. Haven’t spoken to him for a long time, but I know him,” Trump said of his former top campaign aide on Thursday. The president was reacting to news that a dozen FBI agents had raided one of Manafort’s four homes late last month and carried off tax documents and banking records, as The New York Times reported on Wednesday. “That’s pretty tough stuff,” Trump told reporters.
The president and his White House staff have for months minimized Manafort’s role and time on the 2016 presidential campaign, repeatedly describing it as a “very short period of time.”
Trump’s attempt to downplay his relationship with Manafort left out some pertinent facts, however.
Manafort was integral to the Trump campaign’s efforts to secure Republican delegates at last year’s convention. He reportedly remained in touch with the White House as late as April of this year, and helped craft the administration’s early strategy to counter allegations that it colluded with agents of the Russian government during last year’s election.
According to sources close to the president, many on Team Trump blame Manafort for special counsel Robert Mueller’s divergence from election interference and foray into the private finances of the president’s family, and political and business associates.
Though Trump himself has engaged in a number of opaque foreign business deals, his aides believe it was Manafort’s work in Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere that set off the special counsel’s alarm bells—and got him digging into issues only tangentially related to alleged Russian election shenanigans.
The terms “shady” and “sketchy” come up most frequently when senior veterans of Trump’s campaign discuss the earlier work done by Manafort, the campaign’s former chairman. (This is the kind of work that has in decades past included Manafort’s lobbying for some of the worst human rights abusers, killers, and dictators of the Cold War era—work Manafort did with longtime Trump consigliere Roger Stone at their well-connected K Street lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly.)
What they don’t know is whether Mueller has “turned” Manafort or simply obtained information during his investigation that has led to pertinent election-meddling developments, and what—if anything—Manafort would have to offer or interest Mueller and his team.
Pretty soon they'll tell us Manafort was really working for Clinton and Obama as part of a plot to bring down Dear Leader Trump. But like I keep saying, the Trump regime is certainly acting like Manafort has the potential to badly damage Trump, and all of it keeps coming back to that June 9, 2016 meeting with Manafort, Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. involving Russian nationals shopping dirt on the Clinton campaign.
I said earlier last month that the revelations about that meeting were the turning point in the Mueller and Senate investigations, the "end of the beginning" as we moved into the realm of the case against Trump becoming serious. When news of that meeting leaked, the Trump regime went into panic mode and has yet to leave it.
According to two senior officials, White House suspicions toward Manafort were turned up to eleven after the news broke last month of a Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. Manafort was present at the now-infamous confab, as was President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump’s advisers spent a good chunk of the month of July wondering and wildly speculating who could have leaked such damaging information—and Manafort’s name was a recurring theme.
Maloni, the Manafort spokesman, stressed to The Daily Beast that Manafort had voluntarily disclosed the Trump Jr. meeting to Senate investigators (as had been previously reported) before Mueller or his team ever asked about it.
And as the spotlight around Manafort continues to grow, there are still some in Trump-world who insist the president has nothing to worry about from his former campaign chairman, no matter what comes of the Mueller probe.
“The raid on Manafort’s home on the very day that the special counsel knew he was meeting with Senate investigators is a pressure tactic designed to induce Manafort to testify against the president, which is never going to happen,” Manafort’s former partner and current pal Roger Stone insisted to The Daily Beast on Thursday. “Paul is 100% loyal to the President.”
Stone has publicly gone to bat this week for his ex-partner, and in more ways than one. Earlier this week, the Trump-endorsing supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer published online its big story headlined, “TRUMP ADVISOR SEX SCANDAL—PAUL MANAFORT’S SICK AFFAIR.”
“It’s very disturbing. I felt very badly for him last night,” Stone told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “Nobody has to see their personal flaws splashed over the front pages. I’ve been there.”
I'm betting the completely amoral Manafort is about as loyal to Trump as Trump has been to him (or anybody for that matter) which is to say "not in the least". Remember, Trump's long-time modus operandi is to turn on anybody and everybody he can find that he can blame for his own failures. (Ask Sean Spicer, Jeff Sessions or Mitch McConnell how that works out.)
That was eventually going to catch up to Trump, and it's starting to look more and more like Manafort sold him out (or tried to at any rate).
We'll see where this goes, but the effort to smear Manafort and to change the subject back to Clinton and reopen the investigation into her emails is the clearest sign yet that the Trumpies are coming undone.