President Trump once again declared vindication when his campaign manager was sentenced for financial crimes earlier this week. “I can only tell you one thing, again that was proven today: no collusion,” he said to reporters at the White House. “There’s no collusion. There’s noooo collusion and there hasn’t been collusion.”
Of course, the judge who handed down the sentence explicitly said just the opposite. “The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” said Amy Berman Jackson. “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur.” Manafort was sentenced for matters unrelated to collusion, but this hardly indicated he did not collude, any more than Al Capone’s sentence for tax evasion proved he never ordered any murders.
And the notion that Manafort was just a simple white-collar criminal swept up in an unrelated investigation took another hit when the special counsel’s office asked a judge today to delay the sentencing of Rick Gates, Manafort’s former partner. Gates “continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations,” the prosecution asserted.
It is of course possible that the delay means very little. It is also possible that of the “several” investigations in which Gates has turned state’s evidence, none have anything to do with Russia or collusion. But this is not, and never has been, terribly likely.
A prosecutor previously described an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and his employee/Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik as something that goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.” Also during the campaign, Manafort passed on to Kilimnik complex polling data running to 75 pages in length. Even before the Gates news came out, Natasha Bertrand made the case that Robert Mueller is probably building a larger conspiracy case against Trump’s campaign or business. One telling fact is that the polling data was supposed to be redacted, but was revealed mistakenly by Manafort’s lawyers. “The fact that the special counsel hasn’t brought it out but it was only revealed inadvertently,” former prosecutor Mimi Rocah told her, “reinforces the idea that [Mueller] is saving it for something else.”
Reports of the imminent conclusion of the Mueller investigation have driven much of the recent belief that its findings will underwhelm. But those reports keep proving false. The latest 60-day extension of the Gates sentencing suggests it will probably take at least another two months to see the final word. The assumption that Manafort’s story in the investigation is over seems quite premature.