On November 26th a scheduled joint status report for Paul Manafort was expected to be routine, just apprising the court of the status of Manafort’s cooperation and suggesting such cooperation meant sentencing on his guilty pleas should continue to be delayed. Instead it is a blockbuster.
What The Joint Status Report Said
In the joint status report the government asserts Manafort breached his plea agreement, and committed additional crimes, by lying to the FBI and the special counsel’s office on a variety of matters. The defendant’s part of the joint report denies those allegations, claiming Manafort “believes he provided truthful information.” Both sides agree there is no longer any reason to delay sentencing and request the court to schedule it.
As to what the government asserts Manafort lied about, and what evidence they have that he lied, the joint status report does not say. However, the government does say:
“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.”
That promises to be interesting reading.
I view this as perhaps the most significant development in the entire Mueller investigation. The significance is that the government believes Manafort lied, and that the government is confident it can prove those lies. Those lies were likely to protect Trump, and about something very important.
Manafort Appears To Be Taking An Enormous Risk
The risk Manafort is taking is enormous. In a prior article, I discussed the terms of Manafort’s plea agreement. As I said then, if Manafort fails to fully cooperate, with the truth, the deal is off. Manafort may be fully prosecuted for everything. What’s more, everything he has provided to them, to include his sweeping, signed Statement of Offense confession, admitting to all charges, can be used against him. As the government notes in the joint status report, “A breach relieves the government of any obligations it has under the agreement, including its agreement to a reduction in the Sentencing Guidelines for acceptance of responsibility, but leaves intact all the obligations of the defendant as well as his guilty pleas.”
Manafort is 69 years old. The government can prosecute him for all crimes originally charged with the additional evidence of his guilty pleas and his other admissions. The government’s obligation to write a nice letter to the judge urging leniency because of Manafort’s cooperation will not happen. In addition, the government can prosecute him for the new lies it asserts Manafort told when he was supposed to cooperating. In sum, those lies could send him to prison for the rest of his life.
As we await the government’s “detailed sentencing submission,” one has to ask what motivated Manafort to take this incredible risk. What did he lie about that could possibly be worth this risk? Equally important, what evidence does the government have to prove he lied? The answers to those questions may get right to the heart of Mueller investigation.
Manafort’s Lies Must Have Been About Something Important
The stakes would have to be high for Manafort to take the of risk lying. If Manafort’s lies are about Russian collusion, then Mueller’s belief that he has proof of Manafort’s lies means Mueller has proof of collusion.
Trump has certainly communicated that he doesn’t think Manafort should cooperate with Mueller and would admire him for not doing so.
Manafort must be lying to protect Trump with the understanding he need not concern himself with the legal risks of such lies because Trump will fix it all with a pardon. If Trump (or anyone else) has attempted to encourage Manafort to lie in violation of his plea agreement, such acts would themselves constitute witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Again, for these things to happen, the stakes must be high.
There is another thing to consider. If Manafort’s attorneys knew he was lying when talking to Mueller, they would themselves be guilty of conspiracy to his false statements. It is one thing for Manafort to risk his own skin, it is quite another for his attorneys to risk themselves for him. It’s unlikely that happened, suggesting either that Manafort didn’t lie, or that he lied to his attorneys as well.
The Looming Sentencing Report
In resolving these questions, the government’s sentencing recommendation with its promised detail setting forth “the nature of the [Manafort’s] crimes and lies” will be widely anticipated.
As for timing, the judge will, probably within the next couple of weeks, ask the parties to submit a joint proposed scheduling order and then issue a court scheduling order from that. The scheduling order will provide a target sentencing date and deadlines to submit the parties’ competing sentencing recommendations. With Christmas holidays coming up, my best guess is that Mueller will not be submitting his sentencing report until at least mid to late January.
Some have speculated the government’s sentencing report might be submitted under seal to protect the investigation. I think that unlikely. There would be no point to it. Manafort’s attorneys will see it, and from there it will go straight to Trump’s ears anyway. Even if that doesn’t happen, Attorney General Whitaker will see it, with the same result. In recommending the case for sentencing, and publicly promising a detailed sentencing report, I think Mueller understands this potential bombshell will go public. He would prefer that to the trickle of leaks and agenda-driven half truths from the report if it were to be filed sealed.
The real story today is that Manafort lied to the government, it was almost certainly to protect Trump about something important, and whatever that important thing is, Mueller believes he has the facts to prove the truth of it. If I am right, the Mueller investigation is about to bust wide open, though it may not be for a couple of months.