This is a big week for us to see what Mueller may be up to…as today (Dec 4th) we get the sentencing Memo for Mike Flynn. And on Friday, Dec 7th, we get more sentencing information for Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.
The documents this week could, most importantly, offer an infusion of new information about Donald Trump, his campaign, his White House, and its relationship with Russia. In the process, they’ll likely produce far more clarity about what his lieutenants knew, what they told Mueller, and how their differing strategies worked.
Cohen was a holdover from the Trump Organization. A Trump acolyte since 2006, he’d worked on various deals, and though he presented himself as Trump’s attorney, seemed to work more like a fixer. He emerged as an early cheerleader for Trump to jump into politics, and served some campaign functions—including some truly baffling exchanges with reporters—though as his plea deal last week made clear, he also continued to work on a prospective deal to build a Trump building in Moscow. Cohen reportedly wanted a White House job but didn’t get one, and began to leverage his Trump connection for profit as a lawyer.
When it started to become clear, in early 2018, how serious Cohen’s legal jeopardy was, he initially took a defiant stance. Trump publicly boasted that Cohen would never flip on him (raising the question of what exactly there was to flip about), and Cohen told Donny Deutsch he’d sooner jump off a building than betray Trump. He eventually came around. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to eight felony counts, including bank fraud, tax fraud, and violating campaign-finance laws—a charge on which he implicated the president in a crime.
Now Cohen spoke of a different loyalty: “My wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “I put family and country first.” (Since then, he’s taken more shots at Trump, calling for people to vote Democrat, accusing the president of using racial slurs, and more.) Curiously, he did not strike a deal to cooperate with prosecutors at the time, yet he ended up cooperating at length, including testifying for a reported 70 hours to Mueller.
It was only November 28 that Cohen finally signed a plea deal with Mueller’s team, acknowledging he lied to Congress about the Moscow project during testimony. The plea once again is damaging for Trump, especially because Cohen says in court filings he told the lies while in contact with Trump’s legal team, and in order to bolster Trump’s messaging. Now Cohen has asked to be sentenced only to time served for his crimes, citing his cooperation with prosecutors in both New York and D.C. This is an unorthodox approach—cooperating without any deal, then asking for leniency after—and it remains to be seen how well it will work for Cohen. The answer might hinge on just how big the import of his testimony to Mueller is.
Flynn seemed like the opposite of Trump: He spent a decorated career as an Army intelligence officer, with all the discipline that entails, while Trump was a flamboyant businessman who avoided military service. But the two men found common cause during the 2016 campaign, united by fascination with Russia, hatred of Islam, and shared animosity toward Obama, who had forced Flynn out of a job leading the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn became a leading surrogate, lending much needed heft to the Trump campaign and speaking at the Republican National Convention.
Days after the election, Flynn was rewarded with an appointment as national-security adviser. He conducted conversations with the Russian ambassador in that capacity and then, several days after entering the White House, lied to the FBI about those talks. He also lied to Vice President Pence about them. When his lies were revealed by The Washington Post in February 2017, he was fired. Since Flynn had already been under FBI investigation, Mueller took over that probe when he was appointed in May 2017. In November 2017, Flynn cut off communication with the Trump legal team, and the following month, he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, and also acknowledged false statements in Foreign Agent Registration Act filings.
In other words, Flynn decided to fess up quickly, take the pain up-front, and try to get back to a normal life as soon as possible. Flynn has a wide range of possible knowledge about Trump, but it’s not clear what he has told Mueller or how that might shape the general conversation. His cooperation is expected to buy him a relatively light sentence, though.
Finally, and most strangely, there’s Manafort. An old-school establishment Republican, he was not particularly ideologically simpatico with Trump, nor was he just a hired gun—the role he long played for unsavory leaders around the globe—because he was working as a volunteer. As my colleague Franklin Foer has reported, Manafort seems to have hoped to leverage the Trump work into rekindling his business and, most importantly, getting right with an old associate, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Manafort’s time at the campaign was short—by late summer 2016, he was too scandal-plagued even for Trump—but in the meantime he was part of an infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. He was also present when the GOP platform was edited to soften a critique of Russian meddling in Ukraine.
As it turns out, Manafort was involved in a host of crimes. Mueller produced indictments that laid out money-laundering and other financial crimes in great detail, all outside the auspices of the Trump campaign. This was widely seen as a show of strength to convince Manafort to cooperate, but it didn’t work, even after his former partner and protege Rick Gates pleaded guilty to making false statements. He not only insisted on a jury trial, but insisted that he have separate trials in Virginia and D.C., rather than combining them.
The Virginia trial didn’t go well for Manafort. Though the judge tangled with Mueller’s prosecutors and the jury didn’t reach a verdict on every count, Manafort still came out a convicted felon—and with the Washington trial looming. He finally agreed to cooperate and plead guilty in September. But last week, Mueller said in a court filing that Manafort had broken the plea deal by again lying to investigators. Manafort denied lying but agreed with Mueller’s request that his case go straight to sentencing.
Effectively reneging on a plea deal is unusual and risky—it draws the ire of prosecutors and of courts. Beyond that, it emerged that Manafort had been passing information about Mueller to Trump’s legal team for months. That’s not illegal, but it’s highly unusual for a cooperating witness, and again could draw Mueller’s ire. As my colleague Natasha Bertrand reports, some observers believe that Manafort is angling for a presidential pardon. Trump has conspicuously not ruled that out, and has complained publicly that Manafort has been mistreated.
It’s not clear what Manafort told Trump, and whether any of that was useful to the investigation. If public, the Manafort memo should lay some of that out, as well as showing what the blowback of Manafort’s decision to renege on the deal is. He seems to be waiting on a pardon from Trump, but it’s noteworthy that Cohen and Flynn, both of whom were personally closer to Trump, decided they were better off turning on the president and cooperating with prosecutors than expecting a show of reciprocal loyalty.
Mueller could give new details on Russia probe in sentencing memo for Trump’s ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn
Special counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday will submit a recommended sentence for former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last year on a charge of lying to the FBI.
The sentencing memo is also expected to shed light on how the special counsel evaluated Flynn’s cooperation in its ongoing probe of Russia interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mueller could potentially ask a federal judge to reduce Flynn’s sentence.
Flynn was a fiery advocate for then-candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail, famously leading a “lock her up” chant at the Republican National Convention, referring to Hillary Clinton.
Flynn’s sentencing, and the documents to be filed from both parties that anticipate it, have been scheduled since September. After the special counsel submits its sentencing memo, Flynn will have a week to file his own version, followed by a reply from the government three days later on Dec. 14. The sentencing hearing itself is scheduled for the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 18, before Judge Emmet Sullivan in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.