Emergency Podcast: Manafort Is Cooperating
Just a note before we begin, we recorded this emergency podcast. Once we found out that Paul Manafort was cooperating with the Muller investigation, but before his full plea agreement was released. In any case, everything we say, still stands just wanted to point that out. All right. Here it is. Nate. Would you flip and provide witness testimony against me? Oh, man. I'm pretty loyal. I'm pretty loyal. What about me. Pretty pretty loyal. No, no. I mean, I'm pretty loyal, but I don't know if I'm that loyal just so we're on the same page. Nate, I would if if it meant staying out of prison, I throw you under the bus in a second. He's going to prison though, isn't he? Hello and welcome to this emergency edition of the fivethirtyeight politics podcast. I'm Gail Andrew. Paul Manafort President Trump's former campaign chairman has agreed to cooperate with the Muller investigation into Russian election meddling as part of a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to two felonies, Friday morning conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct Justice. So here with me to discuss on this emergency podcast, we've got editor in chief Nate silver any, hey, how are you. I'm good. I'm in a number of Friday. It's another Muller Friday. Don't you have a song that are not gonna sit down? I haven't eaten lunch yet, so I'm not really in a very is ordering food right now. Managing editor, Mike account, how low? Thank you. And on the phone we have fivethirtyeight contributor, Amelia Thompson, devote Amelia. Thanks for joining us. Of course. Thanks for having me Amelia. Let's start with you top line. What does it mean that poll metaphor is cooperating with the Muller investigation? Like does he necessarily have damning information against the president or involved in this investigation? In some way, it means that he has some useful information for prosecutors. The fact that we've gotten to the point where there's a cooperation deal means that he's provided some kind of useful information to the Muller team. Prosecutors do not hand out deals until they have sort of gotten some indication that they're going to get something that they want out of a dependent. We don't. Know what kind of information he has to offer or who it might affect at this point. Manafort is essentially agreeing to tell the special counsel everything he knows about potential criminal activity. By any person. The special counsel asks about castor, provide the government with the truth about this, and he has to be willing to testify so it may be that he has damaging information about the president. It may be that he has damaging information about someone else. We don't really know what the scope at this point. So Amelia, it's mica just to make sure my read on this is right the two Manafort trials, one for like financial crimes, one for unregistered foreign agent activity or whatever were relatively removed from President Trump and the Trump campaign. But that does not necessarily mean that the information Manafort might provide when. He's cooperating is removed right. In fact, we probably believe the opposite. Yeah. Yeah, that's. That's right. Micah, there's reason to believe that the president certainly could be worried about information that Manafort might present. You know, he was the chair of the Trump campaign for a, you know, a short but significant period of time. He was present at the Trump Tower meeting, and yes, he doesn't just get ask questions at this point about, you know, things that are specifically related to the criminal activity. He's admitting anything's fair game. Now we'll get into some of the details of what he pleaded guilty to today. But Nate, how big of a deal is this in the scope of the Muller investigation? And how big of a risk is it to the Trump administration in General Motors scale us, it's one, the five alarm fire. I'd say it's a three alarm fire. Was that lower the new lower than the next. Yeah, I don't think Meller is lacking for sources also like this is like a duplicate almost. I'm sure it's helpful to have. I have. No, I'm not. You know, we're all just guessing I'm after work on this. God damn governors model since the governor's forecasts. But to me, it seems like you know the fact that number one the allegation and Mike, it just made this distinction. Why this? Maybe it doesn't matter, right, but it's not particular to the Trump campaign when he pled on. You know, a number two. I just think Meller is going to find out what there is to know when way or another anyway, regardless of Paul Manafort shipping road in Farrow on team. Let me let me rebut that. Okay. Why would go four or five alarm fire as Melia pointed out Manafort was present and accounted for during a really important part of the Trump campaign. He was in that infamous Trump Tower meeting and given his background than connections with Russia. If there were. Shenanigans going on collusion quote, unquote. You would think Manafort would have been if not neck deep in it than at least prized of it. The other part is political. You know, we had a piece today up by one of our contributors janey Valencia, pointing out that over the last few weeks in particular, since one Manafort was found guilty of the financial crime stuff and to Michael Cohen. Pled guilty to things have happened. One Trump's approval rating has inched down by a few points and to Muller's favourable rating has inched up by few points and on a whole host of other questions. Like, you know whether people think the investigation is fair, whether people trust, Muller Trump, moron at all sorts of those questions. We've seen an improvement in Muller's numbers. And so I think this in terms of helping mother conductors investigation one and, but also in terms of. Giving Muller affirm political grounding to conduct his investigation and the context where his findings you know the, the context, those those findings will come in. This helps on both fronts arrays or Amelia. Nate says it's a three alarm fire mica says it's four and a half, four and a half alarm fire who's right. I think Mike is Ray Diane. For a couple reasons are innate. We're gonna run out of alarm so we can just add more yellow. Let's go up to seven or eight now, I think it's a really big deal. And the first reason I think that is that, you know Manafort has been able to provide some kind of information that was helpful to the special counsel, and we weren't sure that he had that until point. There's been a lot of reporting over the past few months that there have been talks that have happened. It's leaned the Muller team and manafort's attorneys talking about a potential deal, and those of pollen grew and it was like, at this point have had to do with just not being able to get the terms straight. But before we moved it Manafort had information revived. It was totally possible. Those talks were falling because Manafort didn't know anything that was going to help the special counsel. We know the special counsel, it sort of it estimating what's being called collusion. I don't love the word collusion because I, it's meaningless from the perspective. But you know, we're talking about. Poured nation between the Trump campaign and Russia Manafort would eat likely to know something about it if not be involved in it directly. And so the thinking was kind of the if you didn't have information to provide that was suggestive that maybe there was less going on. People had Agean, obviously, huge caveat. We don't know whatever Muller has were kind of guessing and trying to piece all this together from really incomplete information. But I think that's a real big deal. And then politically, I think this is kind of a big law. It's a big win for Muller and the big loss for both Manafort and the because Manafort had now wasted a lot of time and money fighting the special counsel. He would have gotten a much that deal. I Inc if he had just worked with a special counsel from the beginning. And then you know, when we first learned that he was pleading guilty, we weren't sure if he was going to cooperate. And there was kind of speculation that if you plead guilty without cooperating, that could be good for the president because then this big high-profile, I'll is not happening right before the midterm sort of reminding everyone of this, but it's not providing information. He might still be angling for a pardon the president. You know, that was all kind of good also good for maller. I should say this. This is just good for valor. It's time sack or his team to do this trial. They now have more focus on the actual investigation, but now in up the person who's quite close to the president is potential is providing some kind of issues. Just the campaign manager, you know, like little little tiny chairman campaign. You said two things there that want to follow up on though. So is it first of all? Is there any limitation on the scope of his cooperation? Can you say I will tell you anything you want to know about my dealings with Ukraine, but I'm not gonna talk to you about my time on the Trump campaign. Now you can't do that. If he's agreed to cooperate at this point, it's not like he can say, I'm gonna cooperate on this thing. Not on that thing. He has to just answer all of the questions that they pose. The question is, could the president's still pardon him and then affect things. So that is super interesting question. The president can absolutely slow. Pardon him. A couple things happen if Anna for were to be pardoned, the first is that he would still have to talk to Muller if Muller wants to talk to him. And actually if he gets pardoned than he loses his ability to plead the fifth Amelia with, I'm sorry, the pardon wouldn't nullify the plea. An agreement to cooperate the pardon would if he were no longer, you know if he were pardoned for this crime, then he wouldn't have to cooperate with Muller investigation because the charges would go away. Presumably the president would give him some kind of wanking part. Or maybe a specific part about these charges that you know then, so, okay. He doesn't have to cooperate with Muller anymore. Mull can subpoena him to appear before the grand jury and he can't seem the fifth, right? Any take the fifth. So you know, he either refuses to answer questions and he was charged with contempt of court, or he lies and then he gets charged for that. So it's not like a great out in Nakas back to why the politics of this are important in the kind of Muller's numbers entering up are important because it makes the pardon all the more unfeasible at least politically and to to what we were talking about earlier. I mean, this is from our friends at ABC quote in court Friday morning, prosecutors revealed that Manafort had completed a successful meeting with investigators in which he offered them information. They considered valuable. So even if Trump pardons Manafort now he's already given them something. Yeah. I mean Amelia, does that make a pardon significantly less likely at what point would Trump pardon metaphor? If he was going to do so the cooperation seems to start now or yesterday? Yeah. I mean, I don't think there's really a good time to her Trump to pardon Manafort. You know, if he wants to avoid all of the implications he should wait until his past presidents have done. If he really just feels dad for Manafort feels like Manafort kind of got dragged through the snow is not going to go to prison because of him. He'll wait until the very end of the investigation or after the investigation's over. That's what other presidents when they pardoned people who have been implicated in these investigations have typically done. But if the president is worried about his own liability, I mean, some legal experts are even saying that pardoning Manafort now or then having to re pardon him later if you've been charged with another crime related to, you know, potentially, let's say lying to the grand jury. That you could make an argument that that is actually obstruction of Justice to, you know, this is all pretty hypothetical. This presidency is very good for creating new legal hypothetical. That perhaps we'll be resolved. But yet it just doesn't seem like a great proposition whether that means the president will do it. You know that that's really hard to say, and we're not going to find out exactly what the cooperation books like until Muller files his report. Basically, the news reports said this morning that we don't have much information about the cooperation. When does that get clarified that gets clarified much later. So you know, other people are cooperating with the special counsel, Michael Flynn, for example, you know, we don't know what Flynn is receiving in return. We don't know what they're getting these sort of need to work all this out. And then when Manafort is ultimately sentenced for these crimes that you know, we'll have a sense when we see the plea agreement and we know what prosecutors are recommending. So this is we really don't know that much right now and Muller and his team still have a lot of questions. I'm sure to. I don't. Did you guys read? The amended charges are probably what they're called. The Amelia, you can correct me against Manafort that came out this morning. The preceding criminal information? Yeah, it was like a spy novel almost. I mean there were people involved in this ranging from like heads of state of Europe to, I don't know. Who else did you guys read that document? I pay through it, but I haven't read that. You read the whole thing? It's long. I haven't read though. I didn't read the whole thing. Gotten through the whole thing either. I didn't read the obstruction of Justice part. I only read the conspiracy against the United States part, and that was pretty dramatic. I part of it. What's your take? I mean, just part of it. So I'm not sure what's your take? What's your quarter take? I mean very serious. I mean, when take is like I bet Paul Manafort wishes. He had never decided to go on this little wild adventure, call the Trump campaign because he'd gotten away with a lot of stuff that seemed. Yeah, frankly, not that well concealed for very long at. All right. And this was kind of large scale, multiple homes laundering money, right? Working with foreign governments. I mean, it's like this guy wasn't really that subtle about things. You know, that kind of struck me that it was almost sloppy. The other thing is like why this isn't really about the the new document in particular. But you know, I've been, I've been like reading all this like old Watergate stuff just for helpful context and look, the the Watergate comparison is is inherently flawed. But when you read that stuff, you were just struck by. By stone. Many similarities and once already is just as Watergate developed one by one. The president's men were on trial found guilty pled you know, it just sort of had this March quality to it and so it, it just feels like that it feels like how many do we have so far? The presidents of it, it's Manafort for it. He's the fourth in the Muller investigation to plead guilty. And then we have Cohen in the southern district of New York. And when someone pleads guilty you guys, we're getting at this earlier. It does remove some ability to say, oh, the, it's a witch hunt, right? Five of the president's top advisers. Manafort gates won't wouldn't popadopoulos. Well, I was, yeah, that wouldn't call him a top adviser. Okay. So of those five, three, I would argue our senior senior people, you know, the gate. And popadopoulos. I think you could say up Trump could could conceivably say, I never even came across this person. You know, that's not true for Cohen, obviously, or Manafort or Flint. This is stating the obvious, but like shit's getting real. That's right. I was. I was going to urge it a little bit of caution in the Watergate comparison because you know, we have these numbers looking at past special counsel investigations, and at this point in the Watergate investigation sort of this car in and I mean, the Watergate people were arrested and charged in the Watergate investigation before a special counsel is actually appointed some like a little bit of a false comparison. But there were a lot more people connected to Nixon who had sort of been brought into the net at this point. So I think we're not we're not quite there. I mean, I think definitely sort of the thing that strikes me as similar is the way that sort of all these different kinds of criminal activity are. Eating broaden and sort of one thing leads to another and you know who knows what you know, maybe Manafort has information on someone else who has information about the president that that they can. Now, they consider us this information for men for to lean on that person. You know, it's kind of like they're all these links in the chain. And so I think it's the Watergate example is useful to sort of show how it could lay out. And I do think I mean, you know, to add your point, the CFO of the Trump organization has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors, not related to the Muller investigation, but he charges related to Michael Cohen in the southern district of New York. So you, you're right that it's getting closer to the president, and I think it as as all of these kind of links keep getting made. You know, there's just more information out there that that could totally right ending, one that it kind of. Feels like it's just encroaching enclosing in on President Trump and to what Nate said earlier about Muller's gonna figure this out, you know, in Watergate, you could sort of spin alternate history where you know the second Alexander Butterfield discloses the tapes, Nixon burns, the mall in the backyard, and maybe the truth never comes out here. It is just so hard to imagine Muller. Not figuring out what happened. I mean, maybe there's not much happened. Maybe not much happened yet. Muller's going to figure that out. It's hard to it's hard to imagine something crazy happen and Muller misses it. Right. Well, unless he gets fired. If he gets fired at this, but that's the other, it's it's why the po- politics are so important every sort of guilty plea, every person who cooperates gives him a firmer footing. And then if he get it makes firing him or pardoning anyone that much sort of you know risky. So what happens if if the GOP keeps the house in the midterms, it's big disappointment for Democrats. This Trump didn't fire Muller go for. And at that point, why not. Are are in the popular imagination are the midterms about the Russian visitation there about the president? Yeah, because if they were maybe they're not really. I mean, you could argue that like, hey, look, the attempts to derail ObamaCare, but yeah, maybe the tax bills actually not very popular man didn't doesn't poll well and didn't pull. Well. I don't know. They do not feel to me like they're about the Russian Russia investigation in particular, and therefore I don't think that Republicans keeping the house would do a ton to lessen the potential for political backlash to firing Muller. But like certainly it would lessen it somewhat by like in a world where Republicans keep the house, something we'll have changed from now, right? The environment will have swung a bit towards Republicans, but you know, have a a d plus seven. Ven- environment and have Republicans keep the house by the combination of that we are structured and the combination of just like winning lotto the tossups, right? Like our model says that, like at seven points, Democrats would probably win, but certainly well within the margin of uncertainty, even at eight points, I think I know what we have the break even as a today. But if Democrats, if Democrats have a disappointing midterms, it's it's definitely easier to imagine. Trump surviving a step like firing Muller. I'm not try predict he would survive it, but it's easier to imagine as maybe another way. At what point does it become untenable for the folks on Fox News or just your regular Republican to continue to call the investigation a witch hunt? Like is it today? Is it never ever? It's not today today is not the day more Republicans take the investigation seriously. I don't think so. I get this goes back to something we wrote again. All caveats in a meal is right about the water. Watergate comparison. But you know, when the House Judiciary committee voted out the first articles of impeachment these numbers are not exactly right, but they're about right, you know, of the, I don't know, twenty Republicans on the committee or the fifteen to twenty Republicans on the committee, a majority voted against impeachment, right? Which is just to say that party loyalty will hold up through almost anything. It's really a question of of on the margin. So it's the question isn't so much. When does Fox News abandoned Trump or when do congressional Republicans abandoned trumpets? When do you like twenty percent to me? Yeah. When doesn't know it's like when do twenty percent, including Pat Toomey of congressional Republicans stop calling it a witch hunt and wen does who's who's like the reasonable person on Fox News or the most reasonable person, Chris Wallace, but he doesn't most reasonable of the none journalists. One of the most reasonable of the non journalist. That's a difficult question says like this, a fun question then. So Barry brasow real journalist? Yes, he's a real journal. Yeah, certainly he is merely. Do you watch Fox News? Amelia, I I don't know. Bring up. I think. A little bit of overconfidence perhaps about like how the GOP would behave in a postman term environment if they have a bad midterm, if they. Yeah, because right now they're kind of hanging on for dear life. I think Republicans feel like when we've tried to like oppose Trump, it hasn't worked out that well for us, there were some contentious primaries they had to worry about, right. You know, I think they feel like now, boy, you know, if we kind of start going against Trump, it's going to undermine his approval rating even further than that, it will reverberate on us which may or may not be true. But I do think like if they lose the house and certainly they also lose the Senate which require a really big wave than I don't know. Right. I think all of a sudden this kind of halo of being a winner that Trump has cultivated goes away. I think they might think, well, maybe we're damned if we do critique Trump, but we're also damned if we or maybe we don't. I'm very confused now. Right? We're just damned. They're just they're just damned their way and they might say, you know what might or you might say, look, we actually have like a little bit of a window to make. He considered as someone else could Brennan's our nominee in two thousand and twenty. I don't know. I mean, parties react. I would argue even overreact to mature elections. And so like if they have a bad night on number sixth, I don't think past behaviors that predictive of like what they would do. Okay. There's Brett pair. There's Marsha McCallum. That is Tucker, Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingram. This is among the internet is it's sort of a MAC, which is an oxymoron FOX, which is an oxymoron. One hundred percent agree about FOX and friends. I think it's Ingram Dana Perino. We actually have these rankings at one point. Neil Cavuto Shep Smith is a yet. He's a collude owes. I don't think thought it was an opinion. I mean, I think it's like basically Ingram breaks. I. And then between Hannity FOX and friends and Tucker, I think Tucker is the next time. It's an interesting one yet Tucker's he has some strains of the Ben Shapiro kind of like I'm gonna be independent kind of thing. Yeah. Okay. How strains and like the Hannity Hannity would never in a bunker of, I mean, it's yeah. Okay. We've got a little bit off the rails, but a million try to try to get us back on. Well, I mean, I, I know I introduced the hypothetical of what happens if Meller gets fired on. I should also say that Muller has been pretty good about doing things that sort of protect the investigation even if he's fired. I mean, you look at the fact that southern district of New York is investigating Michael Cohen. Not Muller, you know, obviously thought he didn't have jurisdiction over that, but it also has the effect of insulating that part of the investigation. So even if Meller gets fired, you know, there are a lot of people who are working on this. And a lot of kind of line prosecutors who would presumably continue at least some of it though. I mean it also, you know, firing color for late apart from the political ramifications is I think another one of these things that you know, yes, Trump could order his firing, whether that actually helps him legally or actually stopped the investigation in. I don't know if I don't know if he does that. All right. Well, let's wrap up maybe with one final question Amelia at this point. What are the chances that we at some point in the future? See Paul Manafort testify against the president, and I'm looking forward to the closest tenth of a point. So the closest tenth of the point. Well, that's that's a little challenging Gaylon I don't think we never what this point am I allowed to cop out of answering this. You can I mostly just looking for your analysis on this point because that's probably a big question here. Yeah, I mean, I think it's just it's just really not clear at this point. What kind of information Manafort is offering. Our minimum port is on for Muller like. I said, you know, maybe he doesn't have information that damages the president, but he does have information that damages someone else knew hasn't permission that damages the president. You know, it's sort of I, I've talked to prosecutors about how these cases get built and it's really about sort of like four Jimmy's connections and figuring out how to get leverage on the people have the information you need to make the case. So you know, I don't know how likely it is that Manafort is going to testify against the president. It certainly could happen. It also could happen that this is a really important moment because Manafort has information about people who are really close to the president, and they're the ones who kind of get caught in the net XT. So what are the incentives for him to be a good witness though? What can he be? Like kind of passive aggressive in semi helpful looking. I'm cooperating. It will help me, right? Let's look, man doesn't wanna die in prison. I kind of, you know, blunt way to put it, but like he's sixty nine. And if he doesn't is not helpful to prosecutors, then they're not going to help him. So they'll come to a conclusion of the of this like you fully cooperated. Or they could say, during this process like you're not really cooperating your going to file these charges against you, do that with gates Amelia there was there was like some back and forth about gates in the numbers. Also some back and forth about half adopt Lewis to. Yeah, and I mean, this is sort of the the beginning. It's like a tentative agreement between them and you know Justin's, they don't know exactly what they're going to get from Manafort, you know, Manafort has to has to play ball with them. You know, he can't. It's not gonna help him to kind of be, you know, sulky and and not answer their questions directly. If he's cooperating with them at this point, it's because he's, he's decided to cooperate. I think we should. Leave it there. Their final word, my only other final word and and people might not like hearing this, but I would just recommend if for no other reason than to good excuse to talk about the subject, our colleague, Maggie Kurth Baker has a great piece that she wrote several weeks ago, but which we re up today about this whole idea of witnesses who flip incentivized witnesses. The peace isn't really about, you know, Manafort or co in importation. It's about the the group as a whole and sort of the lack of transparency, the lack of data on sort of how, frankly, how reliable these type types of witnesses are. You know, I sort of wonder whether the parties were reversed here and we had a democratic president, whether we'd see a lot of media stories about whether we can trust in a weather, mother can trust Manafort whether they can trust Cohen. Liberal bias, man. Well, yeah, you know, I don't mean sort of the the rigorous press. I mean, I mean kind of more of the more the commentators, but it's just an interesting. It's an interesting subject of like how you know incentivise witnesses are crucial for investigators so so much of what they do. You know you start at the bottom, you work your way up, right? And you. That's kind of how you get the big fish, but there are problems with at and there's there's a lot, we don't know. All right, let's leave it there. Nate, thanks for being on with us. Thank you for having waded. I convince you that to four that Amelia convince you to four lawn fi. But relative to what? What what five relative to the number five. Yeah. Tell scales work. Nate. I'm just saying jennif- five alarm fire and. This is one half less than. But your your point is what happens when he fires Muller or he fires Muller when he pardons Manafort, which I guess maybe doesn't matter as much now when Manafort provides information that Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting, I think that's a different scale or just when the Muller work comes out this, I don't want to get too personal domestic life, but it's like it's like the notion that, but I'm about to the notion of like a budget means you have one budget. Ho said it's like, oh, that was paid for out of a different budget then. But I, my, I think our five alarm fire scale is for reading the tea leaves. When something happens when Muller comes back with findings, if Trump fires Muller, that's sort of prime officia a big deal, a new paradigm, a new paradigm. Yeah, that's one. We'll break out the the paradigm shift noise that we have stored away saying the audio files. Okay. I was trying to say goodbye to you folks mica. Thanks. Thanks for being on my pleasure. Sorry for derailing thing and Amelia. Thanks as always. Hopefully we didn't destroy. Are you on vacation right now? I think. Are you on vacation? I I mean, yes, I'm I'm remotely today, but yes, I am at the beach in Michigan. Well, enjoy the beach in Michigan. Thank you for taking time out of your day. Michigan doesn't have any beaches. Why skew have you ever heard of Lake? Michigan. Okay. It has more than like chore lines along the way are not a beach. Okay. No, I'm putting the kabosh on right now. Factually untrue. Each means ocean, you need sand sand. Okay, that's just wrong. My looking to end listeners, please please send in at five thirty a. politics shouldn't beach just refer to oceanfront shorelines. This is coastal bias. If I have ever heard of it literally coastal by. Lead land during midwestern western beach. Okay, let's leave it there. I'm going to Tony child is in the control room, and you may have heard on the podcast yesterday on model talk that we have a live show coming up in New York on September twenty fourth to get tickets and find out more information. Go to fivethirtyeight dot com slash live, but have a great weekend everyone. And we will see you on Monday.