Fasten your seatbelts. The next three days could get bumpy.

Fasten your seatbelts. The next three days could get bumpy.

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

The next few days could be among the most exciting days yet in the Russia investigation --- or they may be duds. It all depends on what happens in federal court starting today to four of Donald Trump's close associates and campaign officials. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, former national security adviser General Michael Flynn and longtime friend and political adviser Roger Stone will be making appearances before various judges over the next three days. All the Mueller tea leaf readers suggest that we will have a better idea of where Mueller stands at the end of it but we've heard that before so it's best not to get one's hopes up. Still,  it's safe to say that we will probably know more than we did before.

Manafort will be appearing before Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, to be sentenced for the two conspiracy charges revolving around undeclared foreign lobbying work he did on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian political figures to which he pled guilty. He could get as much as 10 years in jail and the big question for Judge Jackson is whether he will serve his sentence concurrently or consecutively to the four year sentence he received in a Virginia courtroom last week. Berman is not expected to be particularly generous to Manafort after all the shenanigans he pulled violating bail and then lying to the government repeatedly after he'd agreed to cooperate. Unlike Judge Ellis in the case in Virginia, Berman has not shown unusual hostility to the prosecutors so Manafort may find himself staring at quite a few years in prison.

If his lawyers follow the same playbook they followed last week, they will undoubtedly emerge with another thinly veiled attempt to get Donald Trump to pardon him, by blurting out to the press that there was "no collusion." Whether they can say that may depend upon whether there is any more information to be revealed about Manafort's dealing with his Russian friend Konstantin Kilimnik, with whom we know he shared campaign polling data, the details of which were redacted in earlier court filings. If that remains under wraps we can conclude that unless there are other indictments coming or a report that is made public, we may never know exactly what took place which would be a real disappointment.

Also today, Michael Flynn is scheduled to appear before Judge Emmett Sullivan in a Virginia courtroom to discuss whether he has finally cooperated enough to be sentenced for the crimes to which he pled guilty over a year ago. The prosecutors were happy with his cooperation last December and were recommending no jail time but you'll recall that the judge exploded after looking at the evidence, telling Flynn that he "sold out" his country and strongly suggesting that Flynn see whether he could "cooperate" some more lest he risk doing some real time in jail. On Tuesday night Flynn's lawyers filed a request for another delay so that he can keep cooperating in another case regarding a plot to kidnap a Turkish dissident, which seems like a wise move considering the judge's previous reaction.

The special prosecutor's office has behaved oddly about this case. In their current filing they say that while he could testify or cooperate more, "his cooperation is otherwise complete." As former US Attorney Joyce Vance told Rachel Maddow on Tuesday, "it's unusual for a prosecutor to be willing to give a cooperator credit at sentencing before his cooperation is done, before he has testified." She suggested that "there is something that we don't know that Bob Mueller's team knows." There's always the possibility that they just think the former General's service to his country makes him a stand-up guy except for these little hiccups with Russians and Turks but if that's so, the Mueller investigation isn't quite as unimpeachable as we might have hoped.

Just to round out Wednesday, former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will be back up on Capitol Hill to "clarify" some of his testimony, which House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler D-NY characterized as "unsatisfactory, incomplete or contradicted by other evidence." Whitaker will be meeting privately with Nadler and the ranking Republican member Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia but unlike the investigations by the Department of Justice, the House Democrats will almost assuredly reveal all the testimony at some point, maybe even tomorrow.

On Thursday, Manafort's former business partner Roger Stone will appear before Judge Jackson to set a trial date for his charges of lying to congress and obstructing the Russia probe. Stone could be sent to jail immediately if Jackson determines that his repeated violation of the gag order requires it. Stone has been dancing as fast as he can to explain away his reckless behavior but it's obvious that he's close to running out of chances.

The prosecutors have asked for a trial date in October which would normally suggest that they are not planning to wrap up any time soon. But a couple of DC district US Attorneys have been added to the team, so some legal observers think it's possible this case will be transferred to that office should Mueller decide to close down the investigation before then. In any case, the Stone saga is just beginning with or without the Special Counsel.

The case that probably reveals the most about the status of the Mueller investigation will be Friday's status hearing for Rick Gates who pled guilty over a year ago and has apparently been cooperating with the Special Counsel in a number of different aspects of the investigation ever since. They have delayed his sentencing four times already. If they ask for another delay on Friday it means Gates is still cooperating and they expect him to be useful in ongoing cases we may not know about. He is one of the few characters in this whole drama who was around during the campaign, the transition, the inauguration and the White House. Gates was a major player in the inauguration so it's possible that his testimony will be needed in the new case they've just opened in the Southern District of New York looking into possible corruption by the Inaugural Committee.

None of this will give us any more than vague clues about the conclusion of the Special Counsel's investigation or whether or not there will be more indictments. And all of the breathless reporting about a report being imminent have so far proved to be premature. But that doesn't mean any of this is incidental. This week, the president's Campaign Chairman, Deputy Campaign Chairman, first National Security Adviser and long time friend and close associate are appearing in federal court on charges of corruption, lying, obstruction of justice and conspiracy all stemming from an investigation into foreign interference in the election. Trump can scream "Witch Hunt" all he wants but whether he likes it or not, people close to him are looking very, very witchy these days.