It was a saturnine Manafort who appeared in court, but prosecutor Andrew Weissmann says that Manafort is already cooperating with the Mueller investigation, or, to use President Trump’s terminology, flipping. The likelihood is that Trump himself will flip out over this news. After all, he recently observed to Fox News, ‘It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.’ Now his decision to hire Manafort is becoming a case of the perils of Pauline for Trump. So much for hiring only the ‘best people.’

A week ago Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani proclaimed, ‘There’s no fear that Paul Manafort would cooperate against the president because there’s nothing to cooperate about and we long ago evaluated him as an honourable man.’ Yeah, right. The two men, Trump and Manafort, have been associated, in one form or another, since the 1980s. He was on a first-name basis with Trump, who almost always insisted on being called ‘Mr Trump’ before he became president. Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager from May to August 2016, is in a position both to deliver and confirm vital information about Trump’s activities.

Trump, who has sought to depict Mueller as running a kind of Star Chamber, will doubtless rage that vengeful prosecutors, most of whom are allied with the Democratic party, have tormented a fine man into issuing a confession. Trump defenders will asseverate that the president himself is not implicated. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, ‘This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.’ Giuliani stated, ‘Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.’

But this tack is only working to reassure the diehards. Polls indicate that Mueller’s approval ratings have been rising even as Trump’s sink. Word is that he complained to aides that the new CNN poll that has him at an abysmal 36 percent must have been confined to Massachusetts voters. Facts, as Thomas Gradgrind tells us, alone are wanted in life. So far, Mueller has been having a very lively time accumulating them. He has racked up four guilty pleas; add in Manafort and the count is now up to five. Indeed, some wags are noting that Mueller, who has been drubbed for the cost of his investigation, seems to have covered its costs in targeting Manafort who is reportedly going to cough up around $46 million to the feds.

Trump can move to pardon Manafort. But any move Trump makes to protect Manafort, a swamp creature par excellence, is likely to damage further the GOP’s electoral prospects in November. Such concerns may not deter Trump from indulging in the emotional satisfaction of lashing out at his enemies. But it would be tailor-made, so to speak, for Democrats out to rouse their base in November.