Donald Trump and his inner circle of advisers and associates presume that his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, could "threaten" Trump if he were to begin cooperating with Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to a report in Monday's New York Times. The new report echoes an earlier report by NBC News that also hinted of Trump's fear that Manafort could incriminate him if his longtime associate — Trump has known Manafort since the 1980s — were to "flip" on him in the Russia probe.
The 68-year-old Manafort is under considerable pressure from Mueller, who has slapped him with dozens of indictments on numerous serious charges including bank fraud and money laundering, filing false tax returns and "conspiracy against the United States." Most recently, on Friday, Mueller indicted Manafort again, this time charging the former political consultant with paying bribes to top European politicians so that they would lobby on behalf of now-deposed Ukranian dictator Viktor Yanukovich.
But what appears to be most threatening to Manafort is the guilty plea on Friday by his longtime business associate and former top Trump aide Rick Gates, who took the plea on a pair of lesser charges — Gates previously faced most of the same charges as Manafort — in exchange for his promise of full cooperation with Mueller's probe, cooperation which likely includes providing damaging testimony against Manafort.
"The presumption in Mr. Trump's circle is that Mr. Gates may not have any incriminating information about the president but could be a dangerous witness against Mr. Manafort, who in turn could threaten Mr. Trump," The New York Times article on Monday reported.Despite Manafort's political consulting work on behalf of Yanukovich, who was ousted in a 2014 popular uprising in Ukraine, and his history of financial and personal problems, Trump hired Manafort in March of 2016 to work on his presidential campaign. Manafort promised Trump that he would work for free, and told a close associate that he "needed" to get hired on the Trump campaign.
According to a lengthy profile of Manafort appearing in the March, 2018, issue of Atlantic Monthly, Manafort was struggling financially at the time, due to the loss of considerable income he suffered when Yanukovich was forced to flee Ukraine to Russia. Manafort was also in debt, to the tune of nearly $19 million, to Russian billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska who was keen to collect. Deripaska is also closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin — as was Yanukovich.
According to indictments issued by Mueller, Manafort's dire financial situation led him, with Gates, to cook up a bank fraud scheme that extracted approximately $20 million in fraudulent loans from various banks — a scheme that Manafort and Gates operated throughout the time both worked on the Trump campaign. Gates also continued in Trump's organization until March of 2017, even though Manafort was forced out in August of 2016.
But Manafort also had another scheme to make himself "whole" financially while he was Trump's campaign manager. He offered to give secret "briefings" to Deripaska about the inner workings of the Trump campaign, conveying confidential information that could theoretically be then passed from Deripaska to Putin — at the same time that Russian hackers and other operatives were illegally manipulating the United States election process in Trump's favor, an operation that Putin is believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to have personally ordered.
According to a Reuters investigation published Monday, Mueller may now have yet another point of leverage to pressure Manafort into "flipping" against Trump. The news agency reported that as four high-priced Los Angeles real estate properties owned by Manafort in partnership with his former son-in-law were in bankruptcy, Manafort may have withheld information about a loan he received against a property he owned in Brooklyn, New York — information that should have been revealed as he went through the Los Angeles bankruptcies.