Manafort Witch Hunt
Facing indictment and millions of dollars in legal debts, President Trump’s onetime campaign manager maintains his innocence and has nothing incriminating to offer Special Counsel Robert Mueller, associates say.
But Paul Manafort, who once advised Ronald Reagan and went on to build a lucrative political consulting business overseas, knows he is up against one of the Justice Department’s most relentless prosecutors.
Andrew Weissmann, who led Justice’s fraud division before being reunited with Mr. Mueller, his former FBI boss, has an operational history of going after the relatively small to snare the big.
“I would bet the indictment will be right before Thanksgiving,” said Sidney Powell, an appeals lawyer in Dallas who locked horns with Mr. Weissmann’s Justice Department task force during the Enron prosecutions of the early 2000s. “Weissmann will want to maximize the trauma to his family.”
For shock effect as well as for gathering evidence, the FBI conducted a predawn raid of Mr. Manafort’s condo in Alexandria, Virginia, in July and stayed for hours. The raid marked a ramping-up of the special counsel’s investigation into suspected Russian interference in the presidential election and collusion with the Trump campaign.
Besides the raid, Mr. Weissmann, a Mafia prosecutor, took the unorthodox route of summoning Mr. Manafort’s former attorney, his current spokesman and others before the grand jury.
If that isn’t enough to rattle Mr. Manafort, news reports citing confidential sources say he is sure to be indicted. Subsequently, Republican political consultant Roger Stone told Yahoo News that he asked Mr. Manafort if the special counsel was planning to charge him, and he answered, “Yes.”
“Manafort will be looking at several counts to begin with,” said Ms. Powell, who wrote the book “Licensed to Lie,” about what she considers Justice Department corruption. “If he doesn’t cooperate, in response to that, they’ll indict him for many more counts, which will ratchet up his cost of defense significantly, and he’ll be looking at a lifetime in prison.”
While Mr. Weissmann was in private practice in New York, he contributed money to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run as well as to the Democratic Party and to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The liberal Washington press corps has all but concluded that Mr. Manafort has committed some type of financial crime with his taxes or bank accounts or international consulting firm.
But people who know Mr. Manafort have a contrarian narrative. They wonder why Mr. Mueller and his staff of nearly 20 prosecutors had the FBI conduct the shock-effect raid.
They suggest that the trail to finding Russia-Trump collusion has become so cold that Mr. Mueller’s game of hardball led by Mr. Weissmann is a last-ditch effort to scare Mr. Manafort into becoming a prosecution witness.
Associates say Mr. Manafort is not a cooperating witness for one clear reason: He has nothing to reveal and has witnessed no illegal collusion. Mr. Manafort believes his personal consulting business of big bucks for advising foreign politicians, some unsavory, did not violate the law. He further believes his years of tax returns are clean.
A source familiar with the investigation told The Washington Times that nothing incriminating was found in the computer files and other documents that the FBI seized from the Alexandria condo.
The long investigations have taken a toll on Mr. Manafort’s finances. One source put his unpaid legal bills at $3 million. He was represented by the powerhouse D.C. law firm WilmerHale, where Mr. Mueller had been a partner since 2014.
Mr. Manafort switched to a single attorney, Kevin M. Downing, a specialist on tax law and finance.
Before Mueller’s investigation, the Justice Department had been looking at Mr. Manafort for years. No indictments have been handed up.
Mr. Trump has called the Russia collusion investigation by three congressional committees and Mr. Mueller a “witch hunt.”