How Bob Mueller Can Use Paul Manafort to Bypass Matthew Whitaker

Many people are very worried about Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation. Some people are worried that Donald Trump will undercut Mueller by issuing pardons. As Jason Easley from PoliticusUSA wrote yesterday:

Democrats have been expecting that Trump would try to abuse the pardon power to obstruct justice since the Mueller investigation began. House Democrats are more than ready for Trump if he pardons Paul Manafort. It is clear that Trump is attempting to suffocate Robert Mueller’s investigation before Democrats have a chance to take power in January.”

Many people have also been worried that Trump appointed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker for the purpose of stifling (or ending) Mueller’s investigation.

One aspect of this is the belief that Whitaker, as the acting head of the U.S. Department of Justice, has the power to prevent Mueller’s final Russia report from going public.

We know that Trump and other Republicans want to bury Mueller’s findings, but will they be able to use Whitaker to do that?

According to legal observers, that will not be easy to do. And in fact Mueller yesterday made clear that he plans to publicize his findings with respect to the case against Paul Manafort. His team filed a status report on Monday which included this language:

“The government will file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement herein.”

Yesterday’s Manafort news shows that there is a golden opportunity for Robert Mueller to address several aspects of the Russia investigation through a court filing. And he said he would do that with respect to Manafort when he wrote he “will file a detailed sentencing submission.”

In the past Mueller has released extensive grand jury information to the public in the form of extremely long and detailed indictment documents. These are called Mueller’s “speaking indictments.” 

The Manafort document will similarly detail his lies and provide the public with a large amount of information. It won’t be an “indictment,” but it will be a very long, detailed, written narrative of the special counsel’s findings that will become a part of public record. And Matthew Whitaker won’t be able to stop Mueller from making this information public.

The reason this is important is that Paul Manafort is the central figure in the entire Mueller probe into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. For example:

  1. Paul Manafort had extensive Ukrainian lobbying connections, where he worked with allies and associates of Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs.
  2. As Trump’s campaign chairman for five months in 2016 he was present during key moments when alleged collusion took place, such as the 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer meeting about “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
  3. Manafort also is very close to his former lobbying partner Roger Stone, and they may have information Mueller can use to prove the connection between Russian hackers, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign. If they can prove this, then they can prove the existence of illegal “collusion” between Trump and Russia.

When Mueller releases to the public his “detailed sentencing submission” for Manafort, we will probably learn exactly what Manafort was lying about and what Mueller was asking him about. We will be able to see what evidence Mueller has that may implicate not just Manafort but also others involved in the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump, Jr. and the president himself.

And  there’s nothing that Matthew Whitaker will be able to do about it.