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In Mueller Probe, the Bodies Are Washing Up on the Beach

A redaction error reveals Paul Manafort’s Russian collusion, and a mystery company fights Robert Mueller’s subpoena.

Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15, 2018, in Washington, DC.

While most of the national media spent Tuesday wondering which portion of his ass the president would be showing during his Oval Office address, a pair of very shiny Robert Mueller pennies happened to drop. The first happens to be the strangest and the funniest, but isn’t that just the way these days: It can’t just be bad, can it? It has to be bad and also utterly humiliating for someone.

That someone, in this case, is whichever attorney on Paul Manafort’s legal team filed a redacted document with the court that wasn’t really redacted — the portions to be hidden are revealed with a simple copy and paste — and exposed potentially damning information to the public at large. Manafort, Donald Trump’s now-convicted former campaign manager, was answering Mueller’s accusation that he intentionally lied to investigators. Thanks to his attorney’s error, the accusations that Trump’s campaign actively colluded with Russia during the election would seem to be all but verified.

Oops. As Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce is wont to say, “Nothing But The Best People” is never not going to be funny.

The 10-page document contains four “redacted” sections, the second of which contains a pair of highly interesting statements:

In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

(Emphasis added)

It appears the chairman of the president’s 2016 campaign was canoodling with highly placed Russian officials over a Ukrainian peace plan both during and after the election. At the high point of the campaign, after Trump had secured the nomination, Manafort was sharing polling data with those same Russian officials. Why? The specter of the existence of a quid pro quo poorly hidden between those “redacted” lines looms large.

“The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information,” reported The New York Times on Tuesday. “But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.”

As The Times rightly notes, neither this document nor any other publicly available evidence suggests Trump directed Manafort or anyone else to deal with high-ranking Russian agents, either in regard to a Ukraine deal or the presidential election itself. That being said, it is difficult to imagine someone with Trump’s controlling disposition being unaware of what his own campaign manager was up to.

“This is one of the first clear reports of Trump campaign officials sharing information with people tied to the Russian government,” reports Heather Digby Parton for Salon. “Since it was revealed by accident in one small section of a legal filing, it’s fair to speculate that it’s not the only piece of evidence pointing to a conspiracy. The only question now is whether Donald Trump was personally aware of what his campaign chairman was up to.”

“It wasn’t marginal,” writes Josh Marshall for Talking Points Memo. “It was happening at the very top of the campaign. The campaign manager was secretly funneling campaign data and information to a Russian oligarch closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, someone who had no possible use for such information other than to use it in the Russian efforts to get Donald Trump elected President.”

The Manafort team’s redaction error is the legal equivalent of a body washing up on the beach with a knife in its back. You wonder what else the ocean is hiding. The same question holds for all the other redactions that actually redacted. There is quite a bit of there, there.

Tuesday’s other shiny penny came in the form of two rulings — one from the Supreme Court, the other from a federal appeals court — that reignited the latest DC parlor game: Name The Secret Company.

During the course of his investigation, Mueller served a subpoena on an unnamed foreign-owned company for reasons yet unknown. The company has refused to cooperate and sought redress from Justice John Roberts and his pals, but was rebuffed. The appeals court, for its part, revealed the company is being fined $50,000 a day for failing to comply with the subpoena. Justice Roberts had placed a hold on that fine, but the hold was removed with the Court’s Tuesday ruling.

The question of this company’s identity is so hot that federal marshals cleared a whole floor of the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, last month to protect the secret, thwarting a mob of reporters who were there trying to figure out what was what. Is it Deutsche Bank, already known to be in deep with Trump? Some pet corporation of a Russian oligarch? One thing seems clear: Mueller is doing a very deep dive into the president’s finances, and that dive is taking him all over the world.

Keep those pennies coming, Robert. If we stack ‘em high enough, we can pay for an impeachment trial and a pizza party afterward.

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