Robert Mueller Believes Donald Trump Dangling Pardon For Paul Manafort Blew Up Plea Deal, Transcript Reveals

Special counsel Robert Mueller has kept the inner workings of his team's investigation into possible Russian collusion with the 2016 Donald Trump campaign so secretive that -- according to one report by the New York Times -- Mueller's prosecutors refused even to reveal the contents of their lunch order from Shake Shack during a court appearance last year.

But a newly released transcript of a closed-door court hearing in February, in the case of Trump's 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort, has offered unprecedented — if limited — insight into what Mueller and his prosecutors are thinking behind their wall of silence. The transcript, from a February 4 private hearing at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, appears to reveal why Mueller believes Manafort continued to lie to him and his investigators -- even after he had signed a cooperation agreement and taken a plea deal on a variety of fraud and money laundering charges.

Mueller cancelled Manafort's plea deal last November -- having accused Manafort of repeated lies to the special counsel -- after signing an agreement requiring him to be fully and truthfully forthcoming about anything prosecutors choose to ask him, as Politico reported.

Paul Manafort arrives at court.
Getty Images | Alex Wong
Trump 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort (r) arriving at a court hearing.

In the transcript, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann -- who has been called "one of Mr. Mueller's top deputies" by the New York Times -- tells Judge Amy Berman Jackson that "there was an unusual factor" that left Manafort to ignore "the normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement," according to an analysis by Talking Points Memo.

Later in the partially redacted transcript, Weissmann tells the judge what, in Mueller's view, that "unusual factor" actually was. "And the motive, I think, is plain. We can see what it is that he would be worried about, which is that the reaction to the idea that [REDACTED] would have."

The redacted portion totals more than five typed lines. But Weissman then goes on to discuss "negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon."

Manafort signed his plea deal with Mueller on September 13 of last year. Mueller first accused him of lying in violation of the agreement on November 26. But on November 28, in a New York Post interview, Trump said publicly that the possibility of a pardon for Manafort was not "off the table."

"I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" Trump told the paper, asked whether he was considering a pardon for his former campaign chief.