Wed, 27 May 2020

In setback for Trump, Manafort to cooperate with Mueller

By Sheetal Sukhija, Shanghai News.Net
15 Sep 2018, 07:34 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - For over a year now, Paul Manafort refused to crack under pressure. 

Neither the intense media scrutiny, nor the threat of several serious charges that could land him a one-way ticket to jail had managed to force Manafort into flipping on his former client and the current President of the United States. 

But all that changed on Friday.

In an hour-long hearing at a District of Columbia federal court, the man who ran the U.S. President Donald Trump's election campaign for a brief five-month period in 2016, pleaded guilty to two felonies.

Last month, a Virginia federal jury deadlocked on ten counts but convicted Manafort on eight of 18 counts including tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud.

He is already facing seven to ten years in prison in that case. 

On Friday, Manafort managed to avert a second trial on charges related to his lobbying work for Ukraine and alleged witness tampering, that had been scheduled for next week.

A full and truthful testimony

Manafort entered a guilty plea to counts of conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice. 

Prosecutors revealed in court that Manafort has agreed to fully cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Manafort has further revealed to have agreed to offer interviews and briefings to the special counsel's office, handing over documents, and testifying in other court proceedings.

According to the plea agreement, Manafort has agreed to cooperate in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant. 

This reportedly includes testifying "fully and completely" before a grand jury in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere.

Prosecutors told the court on Friday that Manafort had completed a successful meeting with investigators and that the information offered by him during the meeting was considered valuable. 

The prosecutors have not publicly stated the nature of the information Manafort had agreed to share, but points out that the cooperation would be "broad" and would include participation in "interviews, briefings, producing documents, [and] testifying in other matters."

In court, Special Counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissman said that Manafort's "proffer session and cooperation ... led us to today."

After the prosecutors made the revelation before the court, Judge Amy Berman Jackson asked Manafort, "You understand that you are agreeing to cooperate fully and truly" in this agreement? 

To which, Manafort replied, "I do."

Then, Judge Jackson declared that Manafort's cooperation agreement includes "interviews and briefings he'll give to the special counsel's office; he'll also turn over documents and testify in other proceedings."

Prosecutors said that the judge had waived his right to have an attorney present during his interviews with the special counsel. 

Speaking to reporters outside the D.C. courthouse on Friday, Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing said, "Tough day for Mr. Manafort. He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He's accepted responsibility. This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that."

What could he possibly offer?

Manafort's plea deal on Friday presented a potentially ominous development for Trump, who has maintained from the start of his presidency that the collusion probe was just a "witch hunt."

Soon after the plea deal was announced, many legal experts pointed out that the biggest proof that Manafort had information that was valuable to Mueller's probe - was that the special counsel's team was willing to make a deal three days before the second high-profile trail.  

However, the White House and Trump's legal team have stressed that they believe the plea offers nothing new about the president or his campaign.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney said in a statement, "Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth."

Further, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, "This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."

However, for Mueller, cracking Manafort is very crucial since he might prove to be a key government witness in the collusion probe for more than one reason. 

Not only was Manafort one of the first few people that Mueller targeted when he took on the collision probe, but Manafort served as Trump's campaign manager during the critical summer months 2016.

Further, his plea deal could prove significant for Mueller, who has been trying to get to the bottom of the now-infamous meeting at the Trump Tower.

The June 2016 meeting held with a Russian delegation was aimed at gaining dirt on Trump's election rival Hillary Clinton.

More importantly, legal experts were more than certain that Mueller would ask Manafort if Trump had offered him a pardon - which could serve as a changing point in the special counsel's probe into obstruction of justice by the U.S. President.

Meanwhile, prosecutors reportedly filed new paperwork on Friday, which showed that under the terms of the plea deal, the bulk of the charges against Manafort have been dropped in exchange for his plea.

The new documents show that prosecutors have included just two counts that resemble the original allegations made in an indictment last year.

Further, reports noted that as part of the deal, Manafort has agreed to forfeit four properties in New York and Virginia, as well as funds held in several bank and investment accounts and an insurance policy.

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