Rick Gates is formalizing his plea deal in the Trump-Russia scandal, and he’s already conducted his proffer interview, which means he’s already given up the goods on Paul Manafort. That in turn means that Manafort will have to cut a deal of his own soon. In order to get that deal, Manafort will have to give up everything he has on the bigger fish in the scandal. In other words, we’re about to finally get to Mike Pence.
By all accounts, Donald Trump desperately wanted to pick Chris Christie as his running mate. Although Trump just wanted his buddy, the move coincidentally made some strategic sense. Christie would have been seen as more relatable than Trump in the eyes of moderate voters and establishment Republican voters. Instead, Manafort went to great lengths to essentially trick Trump into choosing Mike Pence instead. We’ve since learned that Manafort is a Kremlin puppet, and that his every move during the campaign was influenced by this.
Strategically, the Pence pick made little sense. He was so unpopular as Governor of Indiana that he couldn’t have run for reelection there, even though it’s a red state. Even if Manafort felt that Trump needed an evangelical faux-Christian on the ticket in order to attract those kinds of voters, Pence was a poor choice. There are any number of evangelical Republican politicians who were more popular, or at least less deeply unpopular, than Pence. So it was utterly absurd that Manafort put down so many of his chips on Pence of all people.
Manafort is a traitorous monster who is accused of crimes up to and including conspiracy to commit mass murder in Ukraine, but he’s not stupid. He’s a skilled political operator. Why would he force Trump to make such a bad pick with Pence? Ignore the people who rationalize that “It must have been a smart move because Trump won.” No, it didn’t work. Trump lost by three million votes, and was only handed victory by Russian meddling in key swing states and a last minute crime committed by FBI Director James Comey. Nor is there any evidence that Pence actually helped Trump in any swing states.
So why did a smart political operative like Paul Manafort force Donald Trump to make such a terrible running mate pick? And why did Trump, who rarely took campaign advice from anyone, and who didn’t appear to ever listen to any of Manafort’s strategic advice, agree to go with a running mate that he desperately did not want? Logically speaking, the answer is obvious enough: the Kremlin ordered it.
There’s no reason for Russia to have wanted Mike Pence, unless Pence was some kind of Kremlin asset as well. Manafort knows the real story. He’s going to have to squeal very shortly in order to avoid dying in prison. Robert Mueller is about to get answers on why the Kremlin-run campaign zeroed in on Pence against all possible political logic, and those answers are going to ensnare Pence in this scandal.