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King of Playing the Angles
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I have never met Paul Manafort, but I am told that we were undergraduates together at Georgetown in the 1960s. Recently one of his classmates related a story about Manafort’s tenure as the president of Georgetown’s Young Republicans.

According to my source, the university used to pay a very modest per capita stipend to student organizations for each enrolled member. Always ready to play the angles, Manafort allegedly got his fellow Hoyas to join the Young Republicans by splitting the stipend with each recruit. Even though most of the new members never participated in YR activities, the split stipend resulted in the chapter having ample funds and the appearance of a popular, robust organization. Happily enough, this looked good on Manafort’s permanent record and enhanced his reputation as a young man who knew how to get things done even if it meant resorting to unconventional means.

I have no idea if the story is true, but it certainly seems to fit what has been reported about Manafort since he ventured onto the national stage by briefly managing Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. According to the news media, Manafort’s mission was to steer Trump’s path through the rocks and shoals of the Republican convention where it was feared that the party’s political pros were going to manipulate the delegates to deny Trump the nomination. Manafort was hired because he knew all the tricks of the trade and knew how to work the angles to keep the delegates on board the Trump train.

Unfortunately for Manafort, his brief stint as Trump’s campaign manager made him into a target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s anti-Trump jihad. Consequently, Manafort has been convicted by a jury in a Virginia federal court of financial crimes unrelated to the Trump campaign or administration.

Following his conviction, Manafort entered into a plea agreement to avoid yet another federal trial and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office. He faces sentencing on two conspiracy charges and eight counts of fraud as well as forfeiture of his five homes, bank accounts, life insurance policy, and other assets. To use a term taken from Anglo-Saxon common law, he’s screwed.

Now, almost without exception, a defendant who agrees to cooperate becomes a willing — and sometimes enthusiastic — member of the prosecution team and does everything he can to win the approval of his new Justice Department overseers who have the power to utterly destroy him. It’s a type of Stockholm Syndrome much like that exhibited by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who replaced his legal counsel with Democrat lawyer Lanny Davis. Cohen’s rebirth and redemption as a right-thinking, media-approved anti-Trumper was capped by his pleading guilty to violating the campaign finance laws and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Under such circumstances, smart, ethical prosecutors diligently guard against cowering, broken, and submissive cooperating witnesses inventing false narratives to win their favor and advance the prosecutions’ investigative goals.

At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. But, according to the New York Times, Manafort — the king of playing the angles — appears to have come up with a new approach to this cooperation business. Far from playing the whimpering, kneeling supplicant, the Times reports that Manafort has had his lawyer regularly brief President Trump’s legal team on his discussions with Team Mueller. In a classic of understatement, the Times states that this “arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with Mr. Mueller’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago…”

Having worked both sides of such cooperation deals as both a prosecutor and defense counsel, “highly unusual” and “inflamed tensions” doesn’t begin to describe the situation. How about “deranged” and “suicidal” to describe Manafort and “homicidal rage” for the Muellerites? After all, it’s a really bad idea to betray and spit in the eye of the very people who hold your life in their hands.

Team Mueller has publicly declared that Manafort has breached his plea agreement by lying to them about a variety of as-yet unspecified subjects. According to the Times’ sources, the prosecutors are accusing him of “holding out on them despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deem relevant…”

Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s lead counsel, has confirmed that the briefings by Manafort’s lawyer have happened and stated that they have provided valuable insight as to the special counsel’s intentions. Giuliani reportedly said that Manafort’s lawyer related that prosecutors have “hammered away” at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Regarding Mueller, Giuliani stated: “He wants Manafort to incriminate Trump.”

Along these same lines, President Trump recently tweeted, “The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.”

Trump followed up with another tweet stating, “Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them for refusing to lie.”

So, is Manafort crazy? In light of Giuliani’s statements and the president’s tweets, Manafort may be crazy like a fox. I’m beginning to think that for him, all life comes down to geometry, like bank shots on a pool table. “If I cut a deal with the prosecutors here and secretly feed Trump enough damaging information about Team Mueller’s antics there, I might be able to provide Trump with enough public relations air cover for a presidential pardon.”

Hey, given Manafort’s ruinous legal predicament, it isn’t much of an angle, but it’s better than nothing, which is what he had whether or not he played Mueller’s meat puppet. By jamming up Manafort so badly, the special prosecutors have left themselves very little that they can do for him no matter how much he rolls over, sits up and cooperates. Even if Team Mueller were to form a kick line and sing his praises at sentencing, Manafort is, legally speaking, a dead man walking. So why shouldn’t he go for a pardon? What’s he got to lose?

As for Trump, the incoming Democrat House majority has already made clear that they are going to vote for his impeachment with or without cause. But with 53 incoming Republicans, that exercise will be dead on arrival in the Senate. So why not pardon Manafort and, for that matter, General Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and any other road kill squashed by the Muellerites?

Finally, while Manafort’s lawyer has been secretly briefing the president’s legal team about the special counsel office’s untoward behavior and strategic goals, maybe — just maybe — the “P” word came up in the context of “one hand washes the other”. Stranger things have happened, and I would be amazed if competent counsel hasn’t at least raised that possibility on behalf of Manafort and obtained some inkling of the over and under odds of a pardon being granted. 

That’s what you would expect from any lawyer representing Paul Manafort, the man who knows how to work the angles.

George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor who practices law in Philadelphia. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and can be reached by email at kignet1@gmail.com.

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