The Corner

Politics & Policy

Manafort Indicted: A Few Quick Thoughts

A few brief observations in the wake of the Manafort news:

Paul Manafort may be innocent of all these charges, though I doubt he is.

Even if he is innocent, Manafort is a sleazy and shady character, and it was almost inevitable that Trump & Co. would regret being associated with him eventually. Manafort’s résumé alone is dishonorable, even if he didn’t break any laws. Even some of his friends and former colleagues will admit off the record that he’s a bad apple.

That said, there’s nothing in this indictment that has anything to do with Russian “collusion” or with the Trump campaign. My understanding is that the tax charges had to be filed ASAP before the statute of limitations kicked in.

There are a few conclusions that flow from this. The first is: There is no reason for conservatives or Republican officials to go the extra mile defending Manafort. Even President Trump has been lukewarm on the guy. There’s no need to get out in front of the president when it comes to defending a creepy foreign lobbyist who’s defended some of the world’s most indefensible regimes.

Second, I think this makes the odds of Trump firing Mueller or pardoning everybody — an idea largely endorsed by the Wall Street Journal in a shocking editorial — much more unlikely. Or rather, it makes the political consequences of doing so much worse for Trump. But predicting Trump’s behavior isn’t something I’d want to lay odds on.

The third conclusion is that, as of yet, the Manafort indictment is either good news for Trump — “that’s all they got” — or it’s very bad news for Trump — “uh oh, now they can flip Manafort.”

And that just brings us to the fundamental truth of this entire story. If Trump is guilty of seriously and secretly colluding with Russia — something I’m still skeptical of and that lacks much proof — then he is in big trouble because Mueller will figure it out. If he didn’t, he’s not in big trouble because Mueller will figure it out.

Update: One of the problems with offering “quick reactions” to breaking news is that you often miss something important. It seems to me the news about George Papadopolous’s guilty plea contradicts the spirit, if not the text, of what I said about there being nothing Russia related in the Manafort indictment. How big a deal this is, I have no idea.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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