Manafort plea deal a pivotal moment in Mueller probe — and in midterms

Manafort plea deal a pivotal moment in Mueller probe — and in midterms
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In a landmark, defining and historic moment in the investigation of the Russian attack against America, former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort has copped a plea with special counsel Robert Mueller and agreed to cooperate.

This dramatic event will make Mueller’s credibility soar with the American people. It will make his leverage soar with all parties for the remainder of the investigation. It will make the consequences of a potential Manafort pardon or “Saturday Night Massacre” so devastating for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE that both are now unlikely. And it will give Democrats a huge and powerful lift in the midterm elections. 

The Trump strategy of launching massive attacks against Mueller, the Department of Justice and the FBI was a disastrous failure before today’s plea bargain was announced. Since these attacks began, Mueller’s popularity has risen dramatically and Trump’s popularity has fallen even further.

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The American people will reward Mueller’s victories with soaring public support. He has now indicted, convicted or achieved plea deals with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and Manafort, all of whom were at the core of Team Trump. And he has achieved cooperation agreements with a large — and rising — number of individuals close to Trump, the Trump business organization or the Trump campaign, in addition to indictments of Russians.

The truth has now been powerfully revealed about the integrity and probity of Mueller personally and the Mueller investigation institutionally. The investigation was never a witch hunt. That big lie has been disproven by the big truth of indictments, plea bargains and cooperation agreements.

Mueller will now have decisive leverage with every witness he may question, on every matter he may investigate. While Republicans in Congress have refused to provide Mueller with the protection that countless citizens and virtually all Democrats have demanded, that protection is now powerfully provided by Manafort’s plea deal and cooperation agreement.

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It is highly unlikely that Trump will now fire Mueller or interfere with his investigation. If he does, he will precipitate a national backlash of outrage and trigger impeachment proceedings that would doom the Trump presidency — and doom the GOP for a generation.

It is equally unlikely that Trump will pardon Manafort. If he does, the national firestorm will be indescribable, and Manafort will be forced to testify under oath under penalty of perjury, which would leave Trump in no better position than he is today.

The political impact of the Manafort deal will provide a huge lift to Democrats in the upcoming elections. Democrats have made every effort to defend Mueller and to seek the facts in the Russia investigation. Republican refusal to definitively protect Mueller, and the actions of some prominent right-wing Republicans in Congress to keep escalating their attacks against Mueller, the Justice Department and the FBI, will prove disastrous to Republicans in November.

The major trend lines in public opinion will continue. Mueller’s popularity will continue to strengthen. Trump’s popularity will continue to weaken. The Democratic surge in midterm polling will continue. The Republican lag will continue and possibly worsen. 

Today was a historic, powerful and defining moment, with immense consequences for the future of the Russia investigation and for the future of American politics. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.