Facing indictment and millions of dollars in legal debts, President Trump’s onetime campaign manager maintains his innocence and has nothing incriminating to offer Special Counsel Robert Mueller, associates say.
But Paul Manafort, who once advised Ronald Reagan and went on to build a lucrative political consulting business overseas, knows he is up against one of the Justice Department’s most relentless prosecutors.
Andrew Weissmann, who led Justice’s fraud division before being reunited with Mr. Mueller, his former FBI boss, has an operational history of going after the relatively small to snare the big.
“I would bet the indictment will be right before Thanksgiving,” said Sidney Powell, an appeals lawyer in Dallas who locked horns with Mr. Weissmann’s Justice Department task force during the Enron prosecutions of the early 2000s. “Weissmann will want to maximize the trauma to his family.”
For shock effect as well as for gathering evidence, the FBI conducted a predawn raid of Mr. Manafort’s condo in Alexandria, Virginia, in July and stayed for hours. The raid marked a ramping-up of the special counsel’s investigation into suspected Russian interference in the presidential election and collusion with the Trump campaign.
Besides the raid, Mr. Weissmann, a Mafia prosecutor, took the unorthodox route of summoning Mr. Manafort’s former attorney, his current spokesman and others before the grand jury.
SEE ALSO: Paul Manafort wiretapped during Trump campaign
If that isn’t enough to rattle Mr. Manafort, news reports citing confidential sources say he is sure to be indicted. Subsequently, Republican political consultant Roger Stone told Yahoo News that he asked Mr. Manafort if the special counsel was planning to charge him, and he answered, “Yes.”
“Manafort will be looking at several counts to begin with,” said Ms. Powell, who wrote the book “Licensed to Lie,” about what she considers Justice Department corruption. “If he doesn’t cooperate, in response to that, they’ll indict him for many more counts, which will ratchet up his cost of defense significantly, and he’ll be looking at a lifetime in prison.”
While Mr. Weissmann was in private practice in New York, he contributed money to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run as well as to the Democratic Party and to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The liberal Washington press corps has all but concluded that Mr. Manafort has committed some type of financial crime with his taxes or bank accounts or international consulting firm.
But people who know Mr. Manafort have a contrarian narrative. They wonder why Mr. Mueller and his staff of nearly 20 prosecutors had the FBI conduct the shock-effect raid.
They suggest that the trail to finding Russia-Trump collusion has become so cold that Mr. Mueller’s game of hardball led by Mr. Weissmann is a last-ditch effort to scare Mr. Manafort into becoming a prosecution witness.
SEE ALSO: Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, has home raided by FBI
Associates say Mr. Manafort is not a cooperating witness for one clear reason: He has nothing to reveal and has witnessed no illegal collusion. Mr. Manafort believes his personal consulting business of big bucks for advising foreign politicians, some unsavory, did not violate the law. He further believes his years of tax returns are clean.
A source familiar with the investigation told The Washington Times that nothing incriminating was found in the computer files and other documents that the FBI seized from the Alexandria condo.
The long investigations have taken a toll on Mr. Manafort’s finances. One source put his unpaid legal bills at $3 million. He was represented by the powerhouse D.C. law firm WilmerHale, where Mr. Mueller had been a partner since 2014.
Mr. Manafort switched to a single attorney, Kevin M. Downing, a specialist on tax law and finance.
Before Mueller’s investigation, the Justice Department had been looking at Mr. Manafort for years. No indictments have been handed up.
Jason Maloni, whose public relations firm JadeRoq was hired by Manafort attorney Mr. Downing, seemed to confirm this when he issued a statement in response to a CNN report that the consultant had been wiretapped at one point.
“Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ: There is nothing there,” Mr. Maloni said.
Mr. Maloni has attempted to put down rampant news media speculation by denying that Mr. Manafort is a prosecution witness.
Mr. Maloni has portrayed his client as forthcoming and cooperative. Mr. Manafort testified privately in July before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence the day before the FBI raided his home.
Mr. Maloni told The Times that the Senate session was largely about a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower that included Donald Trump Jr., a Russian lawyer-lobbyist, Mr. Manafort and others.
‘Crime of the century’?
Like Mr. Mueller, the committee is investigating suspected Russian interference in the presidential election to include hacking into Democratic Party computers and the email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.
“Paul Manafort had nothing to do with any attempt to undermine the 2016 election or the hacking of the DNC or John Podesta’s emails,” Mr. Maloni said. “He has said so since this nonsense emerged. He will gladly tell Congress and investigators the same thing. No evidence exists to support this fiction.”
Mr. Manafort left the Trump campaign in August after a document surfaced that purported to show he was paid illegally by a Russian-backed political party in Ukraine. He denied the charge.
Bloomberg reported in June that Ukrainian prosecutors found no proof that Mr. Manafort received illicit payments from the Party of Regions, a pro-Russia movement headed by Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s deposed president.
The Manafort probe is headed by Mr. Weissmann, a hard-edged prosecutor who has spent most of his career in federal public service. He was general counsel at the FBI when Mr. Mueller was the bureau’s director. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in early 2015 named him head of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud division.
Mr. Weissmann attained fame in nailing Mafia chieftains in New York in the 1990s and then finding culprits in the infamous collapse of Texas energy giant Enron. A Justice Department press release announcing his pre-Mueller post ticked off the names of convicted Enron executives Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay and Andrew Fastow.
The FBI’s condo invasion and a threat of indictment against Mr. Manafort have the imprint of Mr. Weissmann’s forceful tradecraft to persuade prosecution targets to flip.
“That’s why there was a predawn raid on Manafort’s house,” said Ms. Powell, the Enron appeals attorney. “That’s standard operating procedure for Weissmann.”
Press reports said the raid occurred at 6 a.m. on July 26 and lasted 10 hours. Sunrise that day was 6:03 a.m. Federal guidelines stipulate that search warrants be carried out in daytime unless a judge gives special permission for a night invasion.
“FBI agents executed a search warrant at one of Mr. Manafort’s residences,” Mr. Maloni said after The Washington Post reported the raid. “Mr. Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries, and did so on this occasion as well.”
The special counsel’s office declined to comment on Democratic Party donations by Mr. Mueller’s staff or Mr. Weissmann’s prosecutorial practices.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Islamic terrorists and a National Review columnist, asked in a recent column how a probe created to explore any Trump-Russia collusion became what amounts to a large federal task force throwing all of its considerable power against one man who worked only briefly for the candidate.
“Mueller’s probe more resembles an empire, with 17 prosecutors retained on the public dime,” he wrote. “So what exactly is the crime of the century that requires five times the number of lawyers the Justice Department customarily assigns to crimes of the century? No one can say. The growing firm is clearly scorching the earth, scrutinizing over a decade of Manafort’s shady business dealings, determined to pluck out some white-collar felony or another that they can use to squeeze him.”
Preet Bharara, an Obama-appointed U.S. attorney in Manhattan, is cheering on Mr. Mueller. Mr. Bharara was fired by Mr. Trump after refusing to submit his resignation along with a number of other U.S. attorneys the president inherited.
Mr. Bharara now does commentary for CNN as a staunch Trump critic.
“I think everything you see from our armchair seats suggests that Robert Mueller is going to chase down everything that might suggest a crime has been committed by any associate, colleague [or] relative of the president,” Mr. Bharara said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And also the president himself.”
Mr. Mueller is investigating Mr. Trump’s firing of FBI director James B. Comey and whether it was done to impede the Russia investigation. The firing directly led to the appointment of a special counsel.
Mr. Trump has called the Russia collusion investigation by three congressional committees and Mr. Mueller a “witch hunt.”