U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 18 mins

There are now 2 ways the Mueller probe can go for Trump

Michael B. Kelley
Head of Audience Development

On Friday, Former Trump campaign chairman and international influence peddler Paul Manafort made a plea deal to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign cooperated with those efforts.

The latest guilty plea and cooperation agreement earned by Mueller’s team is the biggest one so far, and it indicates that the probe will go one of two ways for the president: badly or very badly, depending on what else Mueller uncovers and places in the public realm.

Even if Mueller finds no wrongdoing by the president, Manafort flipping indicates the special counsel is digging deeper into everything related to the three crucial months that Manafort served as the 2016 Trump campaign’s chairman and chief strategist. And the overall investigation — which has led to eight guilty pleas so far — will surely remain a constant source of rage for the president.

If Mueller finds wrongdoing by the president — whether it be related to deliberate collaboration with Russian meddling or obstruction of justice or Trump’s business empire — then the potential outcomes become more perilous for President Trump.

From left: Donald Trump, Robert Mueller (bottom), Paul Manafort (top), “Person A” aka Konstantin Kilimnik, and Oleg Deripaska. (Photos: Leah Millis/Reuters, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

‘Manafort’s cooperating with Mueller may be the motherlode’

After nearly a year of fighting Mueller indictments and going through a trial that led to his conviction on eight counts, the 69-year-old agreed to forfeit an estimated $46 million in assets (including four properties) and to cooperate “in any and all matters as to which the Government deems the cooperation relevant.”

From an outside vantage point — given that we have little idea of what Mueller knows — Manafort flipping leads the Russia probe into a new phase: Now that the most Kremlin-linked member of Trump’s inner campaign circle is cooperating with Mueller, the public is closer to knowing whether Team Trump collaborated with Putin’s multifaceted intelligence operation to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort is not only the most prolific Washington swamp figure to be targeted by Mueller, but also the only person cooperating with Mueller who was at the now-infamous June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower that featured candidate Trump’s son Don Jr., Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Manafort meeting with a team led by a Russian government lawyer promising dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Paul Manafort, in the dark suit, stands before Judge T.S. Ellis as he is found guilty of eight charges of bank and tax fraud in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 21. (Sketch: Bill Hennessy via Reuters)

“Manafort’s cooperation is a tremendous achievement for the Mueller investigation — maybe the single biggest development yet,” Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., told Natasha Bertrand of the Atlantic. “Manafort provides Mueller with an insider to the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting and likely many other key moments.”

As Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman said on Friday’s Final Round (video above): “The big question is: Was [the Trump Tower meeting] just a one-off kind of a bumbling effort to get some damaging information on the opponent or was that part of something that might look like a conspiracy? We don’t know. And it’s Mueller’s job to figure it out and tell us.”

Odds are that Manafort, in order to get the plea deal, has already provided valuable information to Mueller’s team. Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired in March 2017, went so far as to assert that Mueller “likely already has all of Manafort’s information. You get the information before you offer the agreement.”

Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel for the Defense Department, tweeted that “Manafort’s cooperating with Mueller may be the motherlode.”

‘This model can greatly benefit the Putin government’

From about 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for the Kremlin-backed Party of Regions and its leader, Viktor Yanukovych. (Yanukovych fled to Russia after being overthrown by EU-leaning Ukrainian protesters in 2014). The work brought Manafort in contact with several people with connections with the Kremlin, including Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Russian military-trained linguist Konstantin Kilimnik — referred to as “Person A” in Mueller indictments.

Deripaska, president of the Russian aluminum giant Rusal, and Manafort became business partners. In 2006, Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska based on a plan to influence Western governments in ways that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.” In 2007, Manafort persuaded Deripaska to provide $100 million to a private equity firm Manafort had created called Pericles. In 2010, Deripaska personally loaned Manafort $10 million. Also in 2010, Deripaska asked Rick Gates, Manafort’s (now-flipped) partner, to account for $18.9 million of Deripaska’s money that had ostensibly been used to buy a telecommunications firm in Ukraine. (In January 2018, a company tied to Deripaska sued Manafort, alleging that he had defrauded him in relation to the investment.)

Vladimir Putin chats with Oleg Deripaska, a onetime business partner of Paul Manafort, at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. (Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS)

Crucially, Deripaska had been a target of U.S. counterintelligence efforts before Donald Trump even announced his run for the presidency. Starting in November 2014, the New York Times recently reported, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele — both of whom later became targets of President Trump — led an attempt to turn Deripaska into an informant. The hope was that the oligarch could provide information on Russian organized crime, given the billionaire’s long-suspected links with several high-ranking members of the Russian mafia. The effort to cultivate Deripaska evolved after the FBI began looking into suspected Russian meddling and potential connections to the Trump campaign.

Deripaska turned down the offer and denied having knowledge of Russian organized crime or Russian meddling. In April 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Deripaska, citing allegations of money laundering, threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official, taking part in extortion and racketeering, bribery of a government official, ordering the murder of a businessman, and links to a prominent Russian organized crime group. (On Sept. 15, the U.S. softened those sanctions, which had rocked the global aluminum industry.)

How do we use to get whole?’

Manafort and Deripaska were apparently still communicating during the 2016 campaign. And the apparent conduit between the two was a mysterious Russian-Ukrainian political operative named Konstantin Kilimnik.

Konstantin Kilimnik is seated at far left in a 2006 photo obtained by the Associated Press as part of a collection of memos and business records from Manafort’s international political consulting offices. (Photo: AP)

Kilimnik served in the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency that allegedly hacked the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were published by WikiLeaks to damage the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Known as “Manafort’s Manafort,” Kilimnik worked as Manafort’s translator, fixer, and operations manager in Ukraine. Manafort called Kilimnik his “Russian brain,” and Kilimnik said that the two exchanged “millions of emails.” Mueller’s team asserted in court filings that Kilimnik (aka Person A) “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.” Manafort likely knew that as well: According to court filings, Gates acknowledged to associates that Kilimnik was a former GRU intelligence officer. 

When joining Trump’s presidential campaign, Manafort knew that he was indebted to Deripaska and worked with Kilimnik to leverage his newfound position in Trump’s inner circle. A few days after being hired as a campaign strategist, Manafort asked Kilimnik: “Has OVD [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] seen?” and “How do we use to get whole?” In a July 2016 email, then-campaign-chief Manafort told Kilimnik: “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate.” Also in July, Kilimnik wrote that he had met that day with the person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago.” 

Manafort and Kilimnik met at least twice while Manafort worked for Trump. In August 2016, one of Deripaska’s private jets landed in Newark from Moscow a few hours after Manafort and Kilimnik met in Manhattan. (A spokesman for Deripaska denied that his client “directly or indirectly communicated with Mr. Manafort in 2016.”)

One of three private jets owned by Oleg Deripaska, call-sign M-ALAY, flies from Newark to Moscow on Aug. 4, 2016. (Photo: Flight traffic via Scott Stedman)

It’s not clear what Kilimnik was up to beyond his work for Manafort. Politico reported that after one of his trips to the U.S. in the summer of 2016, “Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance toward Russia, according to a Kiev operative.” In June 2018, Mueller charged Kilimnik and Manafort with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice after revelations that the two men attempted to tamper with witnesses.

Manafort’s insights into all of these connections are relevant as Mueller’s probe attempts to finish what the FBI started when it reached out to Deripaska in 2014 to get insight on Russian organized crime. In 2017, Ohr used an intermediary to urge Deripaska to “give up Manafort.” Now Mueller will want Manafort to give any and all information he can on Deripaska, as well as any insight into the Russian effort to influence the 2016 election.

One of the relevant subjects could be “intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort … to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the US officials say,” as reported by CNN. “The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

Republican nominee Donald Trump with campaign chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. (Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters)

‘For the principal purpose of influencing the election’

Manafort is the latest member of Trump’s inner circle to assist federal prosecutors.

And while Manafort seems to have relatively little knowledge about Trump’s business empire, which the president considers out of the scope of Mueller’s mandate, others do.

On Aug. 21, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen made the extraordinary admission, speaking under oath to a judge in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, that he illegally paid for the silence of two women “in coordination with and at the direction of” then-candidate Trump, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” Cohen is now reportedly speaking with Mueller’s team in addition to SDNY prosecutors.

Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and David Pecker, a longtime Trump friend who runs the historically Trump-friendly National Enquirer, were granted immunity by federal authorities to provide information in relation to Cohen’s case. The 71-year-old Weisselberg, described by the Wall Street Journal as a “reserved accountant associates say is prized by Mr. Trump for his loyalty” who became “the most senior person in the organization that’s not a Trump,” would be able to provide unique insight into Trump’s business empire if his cooperation expanded.

Michael Cohen, David Pecker, and Allen Weisselberg were all members of President Trump’s inner circle. (Graphic: David Foster/Oath)

The SDNY is not finished looking into the Trump Organization, and the Manhattan district attorney’s office is also considering criminal charges related to Cohen’s hush money payments. If any of this reaches Mueller’s purview, Manafort’s first trial showed that the former FBI Director’s team is highly adept at forensic analysis of complex financial matters.

The opposite of a ‘rigged witch hunt’

In any case, all signs point to an increasing headache for Trump.

At the very least, the list of Trump allies speaking to federal prosecutors about some aspect of Trump’s world include his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a Manafort protégé who worked on the Trump campaign and inauguration, Trump’s former personal attorney, the current chief financial officer of both Trump’s for-profit and ostensibly not-for-profit empires, a top media ally who helped Trump get rid of potential PR problems over the years, and now candidate Trump’s Kremlin-linked former campaign manager.

No matter what happens next, it’s going to continue to reflect poorly on the president’s assertions that Mueller’s investigation is a “rigged witch hunt.” In reality, Mueller’s probe appears to be a highly professional investigation by a war hero and dedicated public servant who is deliberately following the mandate given to him by the current Department of Justice in May 2017.

And the next phases, including the one we’ve now entered with Manafort’s plea deal, will determine just how bad things are going to get for Donald J. Trump.

Follow Michael on Twitter.

Read more:

  • A former GE exec who trained new managers found that almost all of them were making the same mistake
    Business Insider

    A former GE exec who trained new managers found that almost all of them were making the same mistake

    Beth Comstock is the former vice chair of General Electric. Comstock would hand out "permission slips" authorizing employees to take risks — but she also said it's important for people to stop hiding behind their excuses. Beth Comstock doesn't tolerate excuses.

  • Ken Langone: 'Who the hell in their right frame of mind would be buying bonds now?'
    Yahoo Finance

    Ken Langone: 'Who the hell in their right frame of mind would be buying bonds now?'

    Billionaire investor and philanthropist Ken Langone, the founder of The Home Depot (HD) and chairman of Invemed Associates, argued that there’s some “big time” structural problems in the market right now. Because if we are on a trajectory of raising rates that means, and if it keeps going that way and I don’t know how high it will go, and it keeps going that way then all the sudden the guy who bought those bonds is going to be looking at a fairly decent loss,” Langone said.

  • Alibaba (BABA) Dips More Than Broader Markets: What You Should Know

    Alibaba (BABA) Dips More Than Broader Markets: What You Should Know

    Investors will be hoping for strength from BABA as it approaches its next earnings release, which is expected to be November 2, 2018. On that day, BABA is projected to report earnings of $1.16 per share, which would represent a year-over-year decline of 10.08%. Investors should also note any recent changes to analyst estimates for BABA.

  • These 3 Retailers Will Benefit From the Death of Sears
    Motley Fool

    These 3 Retailers Will Benefit From the Death of Sears

    Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD) recently filed for bankruptcy protection and announced that it will close nearly 200 stores by the end of the year. Sears still hopes to operate at least 400 stores going forward, but their fate remains uncertain as the company undergoes a painful restructuring to alleviate its billions of dollars in debt. Sears' bankruptcy was telegraphed years ago, as the retailer struggled with declining mall traffic and intense competition from superstores and Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN).

  • Business

    Exxon Mobil looks to sign LNG supply deal with Zhejiang Energy - executive

    BEIJING (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.M) is looking to sign a long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply deal with Zhejiang Provincial Energy Group, a senior executive said on Thursday, which would be Zhejiang Energy's first long-term supply deal

  • Social Security Checks Are Increasing: What Does That Mean For You?

    Social Security Checks Are Increasing: What Does That Mean For You?

    Social Security checks will see their biggest increase in four years as 2019 kicks off. The Social Security Administration has approved a 2.8% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for next year. That follows a 2% jump this year and an increase of just

  • Intel restructures manufacturing organization
    American City Business Journals

    Intel restructures manufacturing organization

    Chip giant Intel is restructuring its technology and manufacturing business group as it chases more connected device markets and grapples with delays on its next chip generation. In a memo to employees, reviewed by the Business Journal, Group President and Chief Engineering Officer Murthy Renduchintala described splitting the technology and manufacturing business into three groups. The three new groups are technology development, manufacturing and operations and global supply chain.

  • Employee Accused of Urinating on Production Line at Food Processing Facility
    WTKR - Norfolk

    Employee Accused of Urinating on Production Line at Food Processing Facility

    Smithfield Foods, Inc. said in a statement Tuesday that it disposed of more than 50,000 pounds of product after reports of an employee urinating at his station at the company’s processing facility in Virginia.

  • Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Q3 Earnings Preview: Here's What to Look Out For

    Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Q3 Earnings Preview: Here's What to Look Out For

    Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is expected to deliver a year-over-year increase in earnings on higher revenues when it reports results for the quarter ended September 2018. This widely-known consensus outlook gives a good sense of the company's earnings picture, but how the actual results compare to these estimates is a powerful factor that could impact its near-term stock price. The earnings report, which is expected to be released on October 24, 2018, might help the stock move higher if these key numbers are better than expectations.

  • 10 Marijuana Stocks for the Canadian ‘Pot Rush’

    10 Marijuana Stocks for the Canadian ‘Pot Rush’

    After historic legislation that moved Canada as the first G7 member state to legalize recreational marijuana, it became official. This has significant implications, especially for marijuana stocks. As such, investors should strongly consider marijuana stocks to buy, irrespective of their personal reservations.

  • Business

    Credit Suisse Downgrades Home Depot, Lowe's On Reduced Upside Projections

    Home improvement retailers remain Credit Suisse's best sector from a structural perspective, and the sell-side firm's expectations for earnings growth remain unchanged. Credit Suisse's Seth Sigman downgraded Home Depot Inc (NYSE: HD) from Outperform to Neutral with a price target lowered from $222 to $204. Home Depot remains a best-in-class within the entire retail group and is backed by a "superb" management team, Sigman said in the downgrade note.

  • 3 Stocks for Warren Buffett Fans
    Motley Fool

    3 Stocks for Warren Buffett Fans

    Warren Buffett has no shortage of acolytes, and it's easy to see why. The Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) chief and founder has made thousands of early investors in his conglomerate rich as the parent of businesses like GEICO car insurance and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad has posted average annual returns of 20% over the last 50 years, crushing the market. Buffett has never gotten too big for his britches, however.

  • A Look at Skechers’ Recent Growth Numbers
    Market Realist

    A Look at Skechers’ Recent Growth Numbers

    Can Skechers Hit Its Stride in Q3 2018? (Continued from Prior Part) Looking at Skechers’ growth numbers Skechers (SKX) reported strong double-digit growth between fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2017. Its total sales increased at an average of 22.0% during this

  • Where Will NVIDIA Be in 5 Years?
    Motley Fool

    Where Will NVIDIA Be in 5 Years?

    At one time, NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) floated under the radar in the technology sector. Its graphics processing units (GPUs) were then niche tech products that appealed mainly to graphic artists and hardcore PC gamers, but that all changed over the last

  • Business
    Associated Press

    United Rentals: 3Q Earnings Snapshot

    STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) _ United Rentals Inc. (URI) on Wednesday reported third-quarter earnings of $333 million. On a per-share basis, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said it had profit of $4.01. Earnings, adjusted

  • Legal pot in Canada putting pressure on US
    Yahoo Finance Video

    Legal pot in Canada putting pressure on US

    Canada’s moves to legalize recreational marijuana could have major impacts on the US. Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous speaks with Alexis Keenan about the state of legalization in this country.

  • Why American Airlines Group Stock Jumped 6% -- Then Gave Most of It Back
    Motley Fool

    Why American Airlines Group Stock Jumped 6% -- Then Gave Most of It Back

    Shares of American Airlines Group (NASDAQ: AAL) popped 6.4% in early trading Wednesday before retracting to close the day up less than 1% -- just 0.9%, to be precise. An upgrade assigned to the stock by Deutsche Bank appears to be the primary reason for the move. A Deutsche Bank analyst upgraded American Airlines stock from "hold" to "buy" on Wednesday, as we're told by our friends at StreetInsider.com.

  • Housing Stocks Tumble Midday; Home Depot Dents Dow

    Housing Stocks Tumble Midday; Home Depot Dents Dow

    Investing.com - Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and other housing-leveraged stocks fell in midday trading following disappointing data on home construction. Home Depot fell about 4.2% at 12:08 PM ET (16:08 GMT) and was a drag on the Dow Jones Industrial Average

  • Better Buy: The Home Depot, Inc. vs. Lowe's
    Motley Fool

    Better Buy: The Home Depot, Inc. vs. Lowe's

    Home Depot (NYSE: HD) and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW) have helped countless homeowners increase the value of their homes. They've also made many investors rich. With their shares having soared 879% and 484%, respectively, over the past decade, Home Depot and Lowe

  • Finance

    Something’s Wrong With the Netflix Stock Price

    NFLX stock is up less than 5% in Wednesday’s session, after being up nearly 10% before the market opened. For all the noise about Netflix’s cash flow or earnings multiples, the story behind NFLX stock is all about subscribers, as I’ve written several times. A subscriber beat in the third quarter and strong guidance for Q4 seems to alleviate the worries that led the Netflix stock price down double-digits after a disappointing Q2 report.

  • GE to pay penalty if falls short of French job pledges: ministry

    GE to pay penalty if falls short of French job pledges: ministry

    General Electric's new CEO told France's finance minister on Wednesday that it would stick to his predecessor's French job pledges or pay a penalty, the Finance Ministry said. Former CEO John Flannery warned French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in June that the target was "out of reach", and the government raised the possibility of fines worth 50,000 euros ($57,570) for each job not created. GE's new CEO Larry Culp, who took up his post at the start of the month, told Le Maire in a meeting on Wednesday that France remained a strategic country for the company, the ministry said in statement.

  • AT&T (T) Q3 Earnings Preview: How Are Events Shaping Up?

    AT&T (T) Q3 Earnings Preview: How Are Events Shaping Up?

    The market expects AT&T (T) to deliver a year-over-year increase in earnings on higher revenues when it reports results for the quarter ended September 2018. This widely-known consensus outlook is important in assessing the company's earnings picture, but a powerful factor that might influence its near-term stock price is how the actual results compare to these estimates. The stock might move higher if these key numbers top expectations in the upcoming earnings report, which is expected to be released on October 24.

  • Business

    Kinder Morgan's Q3 Earnings Preview

    Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI) will be releasing its next round of earnings Wednesday. For all of the relevant information, here is your guide for the Q3 earnings announcement. Earnings and Revenue Analysts expect Kinder Morgan earnings of 21 cents per share

  • Business

    Berkshire Hathaway shares look really cheap using Warren Buffett's own method of valuing stocks

    Companies pay investors dividends but they also retain some of their earnings. Over time, companies invest these retained earnings at a higher rate of return and that ultimately boosts their share prices, benefiting their investors. J.P. Morgan analyst Sarah DeWitt calculates that Berkshire's share of undistributed earnings from its stock portfolio is $12 billion, or about $5.19 per Berkshire Class B share.

  • Nvidia (NVDA) Dips More Than Broader Markets: What You Should Know

    Nvidia (NVDA) Dips More Than Broader Markets: What You Should Know

    Heading into today, shares of the maker of graphics chips for gaming and artificial intelligence had lost 9.29% over the past month, lagging the Computer and Technology sector's loss of 4.86% and the S&P 500's loss of 3.08% in that time. Meanwhile, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for revenue is projecting net sales of $3.25 billion, up 23.44% from the year-ago period. As a result, we can interpret positive estimate revisions as a good sign for the company's business outlook.