There should be no denying Paul Manafort’s fate. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s list of charges keeps on swelling—a repeatedly amended compendium of malfeasance that is now so long and so pointillistic that it could be only defused by a world-historic prosecutorial gaffe. Despite this seeming comprehensiveness, each fresh filing in court contains a moment where the special prosecutor winks at his target, as if letting him know that he has only begun to bring the pain: a small display of how comprehensively he has surveilled Manafort and his minions; a further sampling of the evidence that could be sitting in his reserve stash.
Everyone understands Manafort’s fate, except apparently the man himself. Rather than cutting a deal—as his longtime deputy Rick Gates did yesterday—Manafort continues to cut a figure of defiance. He has, in essence, dismissed Gates as a weakling. And even as the bedraggled Gates turned against him, Manafort boasted in a statement that he would not be knocked from his stance: “This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”
There’s one primary reason that Manafort appears so unwilling to reconcile himself with the unimpeachable reality. For his entire career, he has taken audacious risks and managed to get away with them. His friends describe him as wired to take chances that most rational creatures would avoid. Such is the temperament that leads a person to allegedly launder millions, in a long series of batches, each one a fresh opportunity to get busted by the feds. And it has led him to spend much of his career working on behalf of murderous autocrats, capricious dictators, and vengeful oligarchs, like the Angolan insurgent Jonas Savimbi and the Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos. Manafort not only had the skills to bend these characters to his will; he seemingly took pleasure in the challenge of taming and mastering dangerous men. (Trump was the rare strongman he couldn’t quite master.)