You don’t say?
Courtesy of NYT:
Of the few hints to emerge from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, about evidence of possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, one of the most tantalizing surfaced almost in passing in a Washington courtroom last week.
Comments by one of Mr. Mueller’s lead prosecutors, disclosed in a transcript of a closed-door hearing, suggest that the special counsel continues to pursue at least one theory: that starting while Russia was taking steps to bolster Mr. Trump’s candidacy, people in his orbit were discussing deals to end a dispute over Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and possibly give Moscow relief from economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.
The theory was offered almost as an aside by the prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, during a discussion of contacts between Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a longtime Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, whom investigators have linked to Russian intelligence.
A closer look at the transcript, released late Thursday, shows that the prosecutors have been keenly focused on discussions the two men had about a plan to end the conflict that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014. Persuading the United States to ease or end the American-led sanctions imposed to punish Moscow for its aggression has been a primary goal of Russian foreign policy.
According to the transcript, which was heavily redacted, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik repeatedly communicated about a so-called peace plan for Ukraine starting in early August 2016, while Mr. Manafort was still running Mr. Trump’s campaign, and continuing into 2018, months after Mr. Manafort had been charged by the special counsel’s office with a litany of crimes related to his work in the country. The prosecutors claim that Mr. Manafort misled them about those talks and other interactions with Mr. Kilimnik.
When asked by the judge why these lies mattered Mr. Weissmann responded with this:
“This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think is the motive here,” Mr. Weissmann said. “This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.”
This, of course, would be the quid pro quo that would suggest collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. The Russians providing support for the campaign in exchange for promised help in lifting sanctions and backing off criticism of their invasion of Ukraine.
Both of those last items, just so you know, the Trump Administration has attempted to deliver.
Weissmann’s other complaint is that Manafort’s lies and lack of cooperation were directly linked to his belief that there was a presidential pardon in his future.
Courtesy of TPM:
The transcript shows that Mueller’s team was deeply concerned that Manafort – after he had pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate them – continued to lie in hopes of receiving a pardon from President Trump.
As special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann explained to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson regarding why the government decided that Manafort has breached his plea agreement, “there was an unusual factor.”
Weissmann elaborated further later on in the hearing.
“And the motive, I think, is plain …” Weissmann said. “We can see what it is that he would be worried about, which is that the reaction to the idea that REDACTED would have.”
The prosecutor added: “I think, negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon.”
If the Mueller team has evidence that Trump or a subordinate communicated directly with Manafort about a pardon, then there could be a case made for both collision and obstruction, and that would be very, very bad for Trump.