In what may be a red-letter day at the New York Times, two knowledgeable voices are speaking to the peculiar actions of Paul Manafort, both of whom (I humbly note) were writers at Fault Lines. First, there’s Cristian Farias’ editorial, “What is Paul Manafort Thinking?” Then there’s Ken White’s “Why Did Manafort Cooperate With Trump Over Mueller?”
Both of these posts try to make sense of the nonsensical, that Manafort, at least theoretically, chose to cast his lot with Mueller by becoming a cooperator, whereupon he chose to lie rather than cooperate. To what end? And then there are the consequences of this misbegotten choice, that he will get whacked by the judge at sentence for his actions, will be amenable to state prosecution so that no presidential pardon will protect him from consequences, and most bizarrely, expose his attorney-client communications to disclosure by his attorney continuing to reveal to Trump’s lawyers what was happening behind the scenes of his cooperation.
Who does this? Why would anyone do this?
Nobody ever really knows what another person is thinking. Even when the person tells his own story about why, it’s usually colored by self-serving reasons to make choices appear more rational and less, well, evil or crazy. People sometimes do things for bad reasons, irrational reasons, no reason at all, and when put to the test of explaining themselves, come up with the best story they can muster.
But one would expect that Manafort’s actions have undergone some small amount of thought, whether introspection or scrutiny by counsel. Yet, they seem so absurd and contrary to Manfort’s self-interest as to defy rational explanation. And that’s where Occam’s Razor comes into play. The only way to make sense of the known facts is to see Manafort as willing to sacrifice his own life, his own welfare, his future, for the sake of protecting Trump.
Does this seem possible? Nothing in Manafort’s life suggests an iota of altruism toward anyone else. He’s been all about him, and he’s allowed to be, but Manafort didn’t purchase expensive jackets so he could clothe the poor. While he’s now linked with Trump, he had no connection to him before the campaign. These weren’t beloved childhood friends, where one might expect a buddy to sacrifice his own welfare for his pal.
It would thus seem entirely sensible for Manafort to cooperate with Mueller, save his own butt to the extent he could at this point, and sell out Trump for however many pieces of silver Mueller was willing to spare. But he played double agent instead, feeding Mueller malarkey while reporting back to Trump.
Some have suggested that it wasn’t Manafort burning Mueller, but the other way around, with Manafort cooperating as he agreed and the special prosecutor claiming he lied and, while taking what Manafort offered, ruining their own rat because they hate him that much. While this can, and does, happen, it defies reason for Mueller to burn Manafort should he be needed to testify against others. Manafort, the human being, just isn’t that important and hated that they would be willing to lose Trump just to destroy Manafort.
One of the most troubling efforts in the course of this presidency is to make sense of the never-ending stream of odd and peculiar legal issues that defy historical norms. Smart and rational people, like Cristian and Ken, do their very best to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s not an easy task. It may turn out that the problem isn’t that these efforts aren’t sound, but that there’s nothing sensible and rational about any of this, but that it’s a product of ignorance, avarice and arrogance.
Maybe the answer is nothing about Manafort makes sense, and yet it’s happening anyway. Just because no administration, and its hangers-on, have ever engaged in such bizarre conduct doesn’t mean that this time we’re dealing with people who just don’t get it, and yet are making decisions anyway.