Paul Manafort: One Of The Dumbest Criminal Defendants Ever?

A Federal Judge found that former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort lied repeatedly after entering into a plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This either makes him incredibly stupid or willing to sacrifice himself to hide the truth from Federal investigators.

A Federal Judge in Washington, D.C. sided with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, finding that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had lied numerous times after entering into a plea deal with Mueller’s office, a finding that voids the deal and virtually guarantees that Manafort will spend the rest of his life in prison:

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, had breached his plea agreement by lying multiple times to prosecutors after pledging to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The decision by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington may affect the severity of punishment that awaits Mr. Manafort. Judge Jackson is scheduled to sentence him next month on two conspiracy counts, and he is also awaiting sentencing for eight other counts in a related fraud case.

After Mr. Manafort agreed in September to cooperate with the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the judge found, he lied about his contacts with a Russian associate during the campaign and after the election. Prosecutors claim that the associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, has ties to Russian intelligence, and have been investigating whether he was involved in Russia’s covert campaign to influence the election results.

The judge also found that Mr. Manafort had lied about a payment that was routed through a pro-Trump political action committee to cover his legal bills, and about information relevant to another undisclosed investigation underway at the Justice Department.

Mr. Manafort joins a string of former Trump aides who have been found to have lied to federal investigators about their involvement with Russians or their intermediaries, including Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser; and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer and lawyer.

Judge Jackson decided that prosecutors failed to prove that Mr. Manafort, 69, had deceived them about two other matters: Mr. Kilimnik’s role in a conspiracy with Mr. Manafort to obstruct justice, and whether Mr. Manafort had been in contact with Trump administration officials.

Although the defense won on those points, the judge’s split decision bodes poorly for Mr. Manafort. The ruling decreases any chance that Judge Jackson will show Mr. Manafort leniency, although legal experts have said that sentencing guidelines already made that highly unlikely. It could also affect the severity of his punishment in a case tried in Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., over the summer. He was convicted by a jury there in August for tax evasion, bank fraud and other crimes.

Prosecutors had declared in November that Mr. Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying, relieving them of any obligation to suggest a lighter sentence because of his plea and cooperation. The judge found that the prosecutors had reached their conclusion in good faith, rejecting arguments by the defense that Mr. Manafort had misspoken merely because he was confused or could not remember clearly.

Judge Jackson’s reasoning could become clearer in the next few days when a transcript of Wednesday’s closed hearing on the matter becomes public. But like transcripts of earlier hearings, it is likely to be heavily redacted to protect the secrecy of the special counsel’s inquiry.

The prosecutors convinced Judge Jackson that Mr. Manafort had deceived them about his talks with Mr. Kilimnik, including their conversations about a possible deal that might have served the Kremlin’s ends. The two men repeatedly discussed a proposal to resolve a conflict over Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, possibly giving Moscow relief from punishing American-led sanctions that had been imposed after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Andrew Weissmann, one of Mr. Mueller’s top deputies, told the judge this month that the interactions between the two men go “to the larger view of what we think is going on and what we think is the motive here.” He suggested that Mr. Manafort had misled the prosecutors into believing that he had rejected the Ukraine plan with Mr. Kilimnik out of hand during a meeting on Aug. 2, 2016, while Mr. Manafort was still running Mr. Trump’s campaign. Only after he was confronted with evidence did Mr. Manafort acknowledge that he and Mr. Kilimnik continued to discuss the proposal on at least three other occasions after Mr. Trump was elected, he said.

The prosecutors also told the judge that Mr. Manafort deceived them about transferring Trump campaign polling data to Mr. Kilimnik during the campaign. The New York Times has reported that the data included both private and public data, and that Mr. Manafort wanted the information delivered to two Ukrainian oligarchs who had financed Ukrainian political parties that were aligned with Russia.

Despite the fact that it lost on a handful of its assertions about Manafort’s lies, this is an unalloyed victory for Mueller and his team. Essentially it means that they were able to prove to Judge Jackson that Manafort had engaged in the seemingly bizarre behavior of continuing to lie to Federal investigators even after entering a plea deal that, had he abided by it, would have significantly limited the amount of time he would have spent in prison and allowed his family to retain at least some of the property that the Special Counsel’s office wanted to seize in connection with his criminal activity. Now, he faces the probability of being sentenced to a significantly longer period of time in prison in connection with his conviction in Virginia and of losing even more property to federal seizure. It’s also unclear what this means for the other charges he was facing in the District of Columbia and the charges in Virginia on which the jury was unable to reach a verdict last August. The trials on those charges was set to begin shortly before he entered the plea deal, but the fact that his plea agreement included an admission of guilt to all the charges against him, what it likely means is that Mueller will also move to proceed to sentencing on those matters as well, thus virtually guaranteeing that he will die in prison. The fact that he so openly chose to violate the terms of an exceedingly generous plea agreement is puzzling, and either makes him among the stupidest defendants in the history of Federal law or indicates that there is something larger that he feels compelled to hide.

In that regard, much attention is being paid to a meeting in August 2016 at a New York cigar bar not far from Trump campaign headquarters at Trump Tower between Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates, and a Russian political operative named Konstantin Kilimnik. Reportedly, Mueller’s prosecutors believe that Manafort and Kilimnik may have exchanged information that would be of interest to Russians involved in interfering with the 2016 campaign and helpful to Trump’s campaign. Indeed, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told Judge Jackson that the meeting goes ”very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.” Among the data in question that may have been exchanged was polling data from the Trump campaign that would prove useful to Russians seeking to aid the Trump campaign. Additionally, it appears that Manafort and Kilimimnik discussed a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, which is relevant due to Manafort’s role watering down anti-Russian provisons of the Republican platform at the Republican National Convention earlier in the summer of 2016. Whatever the substance of the talks, they are of great interest to Mueller and his investigators and, for some reason, important enough to Manafort for some reason to incite him to lie under the stupidest circumstances possible.

So that gets us back to the question of why Manafort would lie after entering the plea deal. Some have suggested that he did so to enhance his chances of getting a Presidential Pardon at some point in the future, but many observers have suggested that the nature of his lies has made it more politically difficult for Trump to actually grant a pardon without raising questions about whether or not it was part of a scheme to obstruct justice. Others have suggested that Manafort may have lied about the nature of these contacts with Russians because he fears repercussions against him or his family from outside sources. Of course, it could just be that Manafort was too dumb to realize the cost of lying in these circumstances but that seems unlikely. This leaves the possibility that he’s hiding something or protecting someone bigger than him. In that regard, it’s worth noting that Mueller’s investigators must have some idea of what’s going on or they would not have been able to present evidence to Judge Jackson that showed Manafort was lying. So, if he was trying to protect someone else Mueller must have a pretty good idea of who that might be.  We’l likely find out when Mueller releases his report. Until then, I’ll leave it to readers to posit what’s going on here.

Here’s the Complaint:

U.S. v. Manafort Order by on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I suspect the attempted KGB murder of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, UK was a message to Manafort and others: we can go anywhere, even into the heartland of the West, and murder anyone we choose to kill. It was clownishly organized, detailed to two bumblers, and the Kremlin itself helped to publicize it. Murder as message.

    I don’t think Manafort is protecting Trump, he’s protecting his children from Trump’s partner-in-crime, Vladimir Putin.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    protecting his family…or angling for a presidential pardon

  3. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I agree that the idea that this scumbag is “protecting someone bigger than himself” out of loyalty or ethics is ludicrous on its face. This piece of human excrement enthusiastically worked for thuggish and brutal murderers, lying and conning for them in exchange for money. There is 0% chance that he would act in a manner because he was motivated by something other than animal survival or money. So I think that, if he isn’t an idiot, fear that Putin would kill him and his family is the primary motivator. If he is an idiot he may be motivated by hope for a Trump pardon. But he would have to be a pretty far gone idiot, since it seems extremely unlikely that Trump will ever pardon anyone that could incriminate him, for the simple reason that once someone is pardoned for a crime they can no longer plead the fifth amendment. They could be forced to testify against Trump and if they didn’t cooperate and tell the truth they could be tried for that. I’m sure even Trump’s low-brow lawyers have made this clear to Paulie-boy and therefore his dangling of the pardon to Manafort is just more Trump stupidity.

    In fact, dangling pardons is Trump to a T. No one with any kind of sense is ever going to believe he will pardon them, but Trump probably thinks he is being oh so tricky, while simultaneously making the obstruction case even more air tight. “But”, you may think, “No one could be this stupid.” But… Trump. Yes. 0% chance he is anything other than a moron.

  4. Pylon says:
  5. Teve says:


    Have we considered that maybe Paul Manafort is like the bus in Speed and if he ever stops doing crimes he’ll explode

    6:52 PM · Feb 13, 2019 · Twitter for iPhone


    Carter Page is sort of like the boat in Speed 2, in that he’s essentially the same but no one quite knows why he exists or what purpose he serves.

    6:54 PM · Feb 13, 2019 · Twitter for iPad


    He’s going to get poloniumed if he ever stops criming.

    7:28 PM · Feb 13, 2019 · Twitterrific for iOS

    Daniel Skibitcky

    sounds like the movie “crank”

    9:27 AM · Feb 14, 2019 · Twitter Web Client

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “Paul Manafort: One Of The Dumbest Criminal Defendants Ever?”

    I suspect in the next few months, someone will say “Hold my beer.”

    My money’s on Donald Trump, Jr.

  7. SKI says:

    So that gets us back to the question of why Manafort would lie after entering the plea deal. Some have suggested that he did so to enhance his chances of getting a Presidential Pardon at some point in the future, but many observers have suggested that the nature of his lies has made it more politically difficult for Trump to actually grant a pardon without raising questions about whether or not it was part of a scheme to obstruct justice. Others have suggested that Manafort may have lied about the nature of these contacts with Russians because he fears repercussions against him or his family from outside sources. Of course, it could just be that Manafort was too dumb to realize the cost of lying in these circumstances but that seems unlikely.

    He lied because it is in his nature to lie. That is what/who he is. It isn’t that complicated. It is a mental illness of sorts but it isn’t complicated.

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    McConnell just surrendered the Senate to a Russian Asset.

  9. Kathy says:

    Long ago i read a column about medicine in which a doctor gave the following advice on making a diagnosis: If you see hoof prints, go look for a horse instead of a zebra.

    So, there’s no one more stupid than the man(*) who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. I don’t know if this applies to Manafort, but it seems to. it would explain why he thought he could get away with lying to people who’ve been investigating him and don’t trust him. Naturally they’ll ask him lots of question they already know the answers to, and naturally he can’t be sure which those questions are.

    (*) Sorry, guys. It’s usually a man.

  10. Joe says:


    I am struck by boundless hubris of a man who would lie about a meeting attended by his partner, Rick Gates, who is in the next room, cooperating – perhaps more candidly – with the same investigators.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Elaborate? Or is this like “no one reported on Trump’s physical” from earlier this week?

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    I think Manafort, like Trump, is simply used to being able to break the law with impunity. He’s had decades of shady behavior that he’s never been called to account on. He continues to break the law because he doesn’t know anything else.

  13. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Remember a Far Side cartoon set in Hell, which shows a man standing in front of two doors. One is labeled “Damned if you do,” the other “Damned if you don’t.” The devil’s poking him on the back with his trident, saying “Come on, it’s got to be one or the other.”

    That’s McConnell’s position. As usual, he chose poorly.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: But McConnell did, apparently, put the bill to a vote without assurance of Trump’s approval. Baby steps. Slap them up aside the head with reality enough times, maybe even GOP Senators can learn.