When the news broke Monday evening that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had filed paperwork in federal court to revoke the pre-trial bail status of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on allegations that Manafort had tried to tamper with witnesses, the vast majority of the reporting neglected to ask one very viable question: Did Manafort contact witnesses in the case against him of his own accord, or did someone suggest he do so?
Granted, a shady character like Manafort — facing charges ranging from bank fraud to conspiracy against the United States — hardly needs someone to suggest something as dangerous as witness tampering. As Andrew Cohen notes Tuesday in an article for Rolling Stone:
“There is little Manafort has done alongside our hustler president that suggests he’s a man willing to observe basic legal rules and norms. Nor is there anything Robert Mueller has done in his capacity as special counsel to think he’d not be on the lookout for such tampering.”
Mueller must have expected that Manafort would try to derail his pending criminal trial — scheduled for this summer — by reaching out to those who might testify against him. And he did, thinking that by using “secure” communication apps he could hide his actions. But he failed, the same way he failed in his attempts to hide those millions of dollars he took from Russian oligarchs connected to Vladimir Putin.
But here’s a scenario to consider: What if Donald Trump encouraged Manafort to contact witnesses in the vain hope he could toss a monkey wrench into the Mueller probe. In exchange, Trump could have told Manafort that if he got caught, he’d agree to pardon him on the witness tampering charges, too. Keep in mind how obsessed Trump has been with the notion of pardons lately, even declaring that he has the right to pardon himself.
Does anyone doubt that Donald Trump is capable of the most underhanded and illegal actions imaginable in order to save his own ass? He’s even bragged he could kill a man in broad daylight and get away with it.
The problem for Trump and Manafort, however, is that they weren’t counting on a prosecutor as doggedly determined as Robert Mueller, and no matter how much they try to escape, the net around both of them just gets tighter.