Manafort plea deal begs key question: What does he know?

Hugh Fox
September 15, 2018

Prosecutors say that Manafort directed a large scale lobbying operation in the US for Ukrainian interests without registering with the Justice Department as required by the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Courtroom sketch of former Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort at federal court in Washington.

As summarized by Natasha Bertand in The Atlantic, here are a few things that Manafort will likely talk to special counsel Robert Mueller about.

The agreement makes Manafort the latest associate of Trump, a president known to place a premium on loyalty among subordinates, to admit guilt and work with investigators in hopes of leniency.

He's already been convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud crimes in the Virginia trial.

The White House says Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller is "totally unrelated" to President Donald Trump.

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

As Manafort's trial begins, one of the key witnesses against him will be Rick Gates, who has cut a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

"This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign", she said.

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In response to the guilty plea, the White House emphasized that the charges relating to Manafort's activities had "nothing to do" with the 2016 election. Manafort answered the judge's questions about himself, his plea and rights he will waive, including his right to a trial. Manafort was found guilty by a Virginia jury last month of multiple financial crimes.

In the past year, Mueller has secured pleas from a former national security adviser who lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador, a campaign aide who broached the idea of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and another aide who was indicted alongside Manafort but ultimately turned on him.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge Manafort's plea agreement is a "cooperation agreement", and other charges will be dropped at sentencing at "or at the agreement of successful cooperation".

The deal allows Manafort to avoid a second trial that had been scheduled to start next week in Washington.

Prosecutors reduced the set of charges against Manafort on Friday from seven to two. He did not elaborate on the agreement.

Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors Friday could indicate he didn't feel he could count on Trump for a pardon. Both charges are related to his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is expected to plead guilty to federal charges as part of a deal with the special counsel's office.

Manafort was to go on trial again in Washington next week.

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former NY homicide prosecutor and of counsel to the NY law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. The charges in Friday's filing were contained in a criminal information, a document that can only be filed with a defendant's consent and typically signals a deal has been reached.

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In December, Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn admitted to lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Paul Manafort seated (L) as his lawyer speaks in court.

Manafort, however, continues to hold a literal "Trump card", which he may elect to play only at the conclusion of court proceedings in his case.

"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.

Investigators are reportedly reviewing Manafort's notes of the meeting which "contained the words "donations, ' and 'RNC" in close proximity".

It's unclear how the deal might affect any Manafort pursuit of a pardon from Trump, though Giuliani told Politico before the deal that a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon.

The developments were first reported by ABC News, which said details of the deal would be announced in court on Friday.

Just over three weeks ago, the president was praising his former campaign chief as a "brave man" who, in contrast to his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, "refused to break and make up stories in order to get a deal".

He had steadfastly refused to cooperate with Mueller even as the Virginia jury convicted him for hiding from US 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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