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MIHALOPOULOS: Will indicted Trump aides be stand-up guys — or rats?

Paul Manafort

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a former business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted Monday on charges of conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and several other financial charges. | AP file photo

Here in Illinois, where we’ve seen so many federal investigations roll through the halls of power, every Chicago ward hack and Springfield politico knows the most important question to ask at this point.

Will the associates of President Trump who were pinched today turn out to be stand-up guys, acting like they don’t know nutten’ about nutten’ and taking their punishments silently?

Or are they what the hacks call rats?


The early signs are not encouraging for those who might find themselves further up the food chain in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation in Washington.

Chicago’s own George Papadopoulos, a former foreign-policy advisor to Trump’s campaign, already has been singing to save his skin from the harshest blows, according to federal court records unsealed today.

We learned that Papadopoulos pled guilty already to lying to the feds — and then agreed to start telling the truth about what happened. The feds revealed that they flipped him nearly three months ago.

“On July 27, 2017, defendant Papadopoulos was arrested upon his arrival at Dulles International Airport,” Mueller wrote. “Following his arrest, defendant Papadopoulos met with the government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”

The reasons for cooperating are clear.

Again, the clichés and metaphors we love to use here are plentiful.

You’re either on the train or you’re on the tracks.

Others prefer to speak of buses instead of trains. As in, first on board gets the best seat.

Whatever you call it, the benefits always come to those who cooperate.

“The government agrees to bring to the court’s attention at sentencing the defendant’s efforts to cooperate with the government, on the condition that your client continues to respond and provide information regarding any and all matters as to which the government deems relevant,” according to court records in Papadopoulos’ case.

In Illinois politics in recent years, we have plenty of examples of both those who withstand the federal heat and clam up, and others who take the opposite approach, agreeing to cooperate almost immediately in exchange for leniency.

These cases show us how important it can be for the feds — and for their ultimate targets — if the first defendants to be arrested decide to flip.

After the feds made a midnight raid of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s City Hall in 2005, they quickly arrested and charged his patronage chief, Robert Sorich, and three other administration officials.

Sorich and the others fought in court, lost and paid the price.

But those stand-up guys effectively stymied the investigation into hiring fraud well short of the mayor’s desk.

Not for nothing, let’s point out that Sorich hailed from the Daley clan’s native Bridgeport neighborhood. Daley’s brother John even attended a legal fundraiser for Sorich.

Another defendant in that investigation, the Daley administration Streets and San boss Al Sanchez, also defiantly fought the charges rather than cooperating, and he duly did his time. (Sanchez’s defense lawyer in the case, Chicago’s Thomas Breen, is also representing Papadopoulos, according to the court records unsealed today).

Former governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan were not as lucky as Daley. Both saw their chiefs of staff, John Harris for Blagojevich and Ryan’s Scott Fawell, turn government witnesses against them. Both went to federal prison, where Blagojevich remains.

It could be vitally important to Trump and those closest to him if the other two men charged today — Paul Manafort and Rick Gates — are more like Sorich and Sanchez than Harris and Fawell.

The reaction to the first arrests from the top also often is instructive, and maybe even predictive of what comes next.

When Sorich was arrested, for what it’s worth, Daley had nothing but good to say about him.

Judging by how quickly Trump moved to distance himself from Manafort after his arrest, it seems obvious the president suspects he is or will soon be talking quite a lot.