Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is due to pay a very stiff price for lying to special counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller after pleading guilty to conspiracy and witness tampering, but Mueller tore up the agreement after it emerged that he lied about several matters. Combined with his conviction on financial charges, Manafort was staring down the barrel of dying in prison. At this point, virtually the only thing that could potentially save Manafort is a pardon from Donald Trump.
Well, earlier this week, Manafort may have tacitly admitted that there is little prospect of a pardon. He surrendered his license to practice law in Connecticut rather than face almost certain disbarment.
Most of us know that Manafort’s life has been very difficult ever since it emerged that he’d been indicted as part of the first batch of indictments that marked the formal beginning of Mueller Time. But it turns out that Manafort had a shot fired across his bow sooner than that. Specifically, on April 17, 2017–six months before the indictments rolled out.
On that date, J. Whitfield Larrabee, the executive director of the Resistance Committee Action Fund and the attorney for the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, filed a complaint with the Connecticut Bar seeking to have Manafort disbarred. Larrabee contended that Manafort had engaged in “unethical and illegal conduct” since at least 2005 by hiding his work on behalf of “foreign and autocratic governments,” failing to register as a foreign agent, accepting dirty money from pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, and other illicit activity. Larrabee contended that by using his “superior knowledge of the law” in order to further this activity, Manafort had forfeited his right to practice law.
Just three days later, the Connecticut Bar opened a formal investigation. According to journalist Grant Stern, this was no small thing, considering how often such complaints are summarily dismissed without even getting a hearing.
Fast forward to last Tuesday, when Larrabee learned that a formal misconduct hearing had been scheduled for the following month. Larrabee made clear that he was pushing this action in the event Trump was foolish enough to pardon Manafort.
The notice was issued on January 2. Just eight days later, Manafort folded. In a filing with the New Britain Superior Court, he surrendered his law license, effectively giving up his right to practice law in Connecticut. When Larrabee saw this, he took a victory lap.
Earlier, Larrabee told The Hartford Courant that it would have been “a sensational surprise” had he shown up at the hearing alongside his lawyers. It’s hard not to agree. After all, much of Larrabee’s complaint closely tracks the details in the superseding criminal information Mueller filed on the day Manafort pleaded guilty–a timeline that Manafort tacitly accepted with his guilty plea in September. As a result, he could have been legally prevented from contesting many of Larrabee’s assertions–a situation known in the legal profession as “estoppel.”
This alone would have been enough for Manafort to realize that he was boxed in. But he may have known this long before he learned Larrabee had him in his crosshairs. In November, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano noticed that Mueller had buried the legal equivalent of a quarter-stick of dynamite in the plea agreement. As part of the deal, Manafort also pleaded guilty to state charges in California, New Jersey and Virginia.
Napolitano put it simply–that provision literally made the plea agreement “pardon proof.” Remember, presidential pardons have no standing regarding state charges. As Napolitano noted, even if Manafort is pardoned, state prosecutors in California, New Jersey and Virginia “already have his guilty plea”–and there would be virtually nothing Trump can do to stop Manafort from being sentenced there.
Manafort faces a maximum of 10 years in prison on the charges spelled out in his plea agreement, which was reached in the District of Columbia federal court. Additionally, he faced seven to ten years in prison on the charges for which he was convicted across the Potomac in Alexandria–but could face even more than that given evidence of other crimes.
Simply put, the only hope Manafort had of avoiding what would have effectively been a life sentence would have been if Trump pardoned him. Perhaps he finally realized that even if Trump had done so, he was still screwed eighty ways to Sunday. That’s about the only way you can explain his decision to give up his law license.
Larrabee isn’t finished yet. He’s seeking the disbarment of a number of other members of Trump’s inner circle, such as former federal Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi. In other words–he’s chasing down some really big tigers. With Manafort’s surrender, he’s already bagged a very big tiger.
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