Manafort averts 2nd trial with plea deal, promises to cooperate with Mueller

Charlene Craig
September 15, 2018

A plea deal by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to cooperate with US prosecutors in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election suggests he could shed light on unanswered questions revolving around the campaign, legal experts said on Friday.

The move allows him to avoid a second criminal trial.

"I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family", the President tweeted the week of Manafort's conviction in his Virginia trial.

Manafort has not yet been sentenced in the Virginia case.

Attorney Kevin Downing, with the defense team for Paul Manafort, is seen leaving federal court in Washington, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

He is also required to sit for interviews and briefings with the special counsel's office, to turn over documents and to testify in other proceedings, Judge Amy Berman Jackson announced.

Here are three takeaways from the deal and what Manafort's cooperation with the special counsel means for his sentencing, the Mueller investigation, and a potential pardon from the president.

"If Manafort is willing to give Mueller information about Trump's contacts with Russian Federation, whether the contacts were direct or indirect, then this really is a disaster for Trump and his associates".

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Manafort was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia and faces seven to 10 years in prison in that case.

As associates of President Donald Trump folded one-by-one over the a year ago under the pressure of federal investigators, there was always Paul Manafort.

Had he chose to cooperate with prosecutors well before that trial began - he had months to do so - the plea agreement would probably have looked a lot different, and more balanced, than the one filed in court Friday in D.C. "This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign", the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement. "It is totally unrelated".

Manafort, 69, pleaded guilty in a Washington DC, courthouse on Friday to conspiring to defraud the U.S. and conspiring to obstruct justice.

The structure of Manafort's plea deal limits the effectiveness of any Trump pardon, said Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University. He did not elaborate on the agreement.

Even though Manafort and the Trump legal team were operating under a joint defence agreement, in which they would share relevant information, it appears the details of the deal caught Mr Trump's side flat-footed.

That case alleged that Manafort directed a large-scale U.S. lobbying operation for Ukrainian interests but never registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent despite being required to do so under the law, and that he concealed millions of dollars in income for the consulting work from the IRS.

The tilt toward the special counsel in the plea agreement's language gives Manafort plenty of incentive to tell them everything he knows about the possible criminal dealings of other Trump campaign officials.

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Paul Manafort's plea agreement is a monstrously one-sided deal in favor of the government.

Trump has the power to issue a presidential pardon for Manafort on federal charges. In addition to failing to register as a foreign agent himself, Manafort admitted to taking steps to prevent the firms and lobbyists he hired from registering as foreign agents.

FILE - Paul Manafort, right, campaign manager to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, and his assistant Rick Gates stand on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17, 2016.

The second count explains how, between February and April of this year, Manafort conspired to obstruct justice through witness tampering. Mueller was authorized to look into matters that arose from the Russian Federation investigation, leading to the charges against Manafort, which are not related to the Trump campaign or to Russian Federation.

"He knows nothing harmful to the president and the plea is the best evidence of that", Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is representing Trump in the Russian Federation probe, told Reuters.

Mr Trump went so far as to suggest in a television interview that plea deals with prosecutors "should nearly be illegal". Manafort is the first Trump associate to flip who was inside the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives.

He had steadfastly refused to cooperate with Mueller even as the Virginia jury convicted him for hiding from USA tax authorities $16 million he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine to fund an opulent lifestyle and then lying to banks to secure $20 million in loans.

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