Paul Manafort was no rat; he wouldn’t “flip.” He would take his lumps at a second trial, and wait for a pardon from President Trump. That’s what nearly everyone—including the president and his legal team—believed until late last week, when special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that the former Trump campaign manager had pleaded guilty to reduced charges and would “testify fully, completely, and truthfully” about everything he knows about the campaign and Russia, which is no doubt a lot. (See Controversy.) What does this tell us? It tells us that Mueller and his team of crack prosecutors are working this investigation the way a grand master plays chess. No one knows what evidence they have or where they’re going. Claims that the special counsel has turned up “no proof of collusion” are nothing more than expressions of bravado, hope—and fear.
Even the president’s lawyers, The New York Times reports this week, are largely in the dark. They think it was a grave mistake that his first legal team—led by John Dowd and Ty Cobb—let Mueller extensively interview White House counsel Don McGahn and other officials about Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation. His new lawyers, the Times reports, have come to realize they cannot trust what Trump tells them. As a result, they have no clear idea of their client’s vulnerabilities. Might Mueller have found incriminating evidence about Russian money in Trump’s tax returns or financial records? Did Trump know about—and expressly approve—the Trump Tower meeting that Manafort and Trump’s son and son-in-law held with Russians who’d offered the Kremlin’s help in the campaign? Did that meeting lead to further contact? Was Trump told that Russia had hacked Democratic emails before they were publicly released? Like Trump’s lawyers, Americans can only guess. But Mueller’s team is digging, digging, digging. Members of Trump’s inner circle are singing. We won’t be in the dark for long.