Five takeaways from Manafort’s plea deal

Paul Manafort flipped on Friday, agreeing to a deal with federal prosecutors that includes full cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

It was a dramatic shift for President Trump’s former campaign chairman, who just last month concluded a lengthy and dramatic trial that ended with a guilty verdict on eight charges and a deadlocked jury on 10 others.

The plea deal he agreed to on Friday puts the kibosh on what would have been a second, more explosive trial slated to start in D.C. later this month.{mosads}

Here’s what you need to know about Manafort’s deal with the special counsel’s office.

Manafort pleads guilty to serious crimes

The ex-campaign chairman pleaded guilty to two felony charges — one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice for tampering with witnesses.

Prosecutors said the conspiracy charge covered efforts to launder money, commit tax fraud, lie to federal officials and avoid the reporting of foreign bank accounts or registration as a lobbyist for a foreign country.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said Manafort conspired with his former business partner Richard Gates and Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik to illegally lobby government officials on behalf of Ukraine’s government.

The deal revealed a bombshell detail that one of the people Manafort represented managed to accompany a foreign prime minister into a 2013 Oval Office meeting with former President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Prosecutors now will not have to decide whether to retry Manafort on the charges the Virginia jury couldn’t decide upon last month. Manafort admitted he was guilty of those bank and tax fraud counts, but prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charges as part of the deal.

Manafort agreed to ‘full cooperation’

Manafort agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in full, a potentially important moment for the prosecutorial team.

Manafort’s plea agreement requires him to “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation and any other matters in which the government deems his cooperation relevant.

That includes submitting for interviews, handing over documents, and testifying before the grand jury and at any other forthcoming trials in Washington or elsewhere. Manafort also waived his right to have his lawyers present during interviews with government investigators and attorneys.

Former prosecutors say that the cooperation agreement is standard, and will afford government prosecutors unfettered access to any details Manafort might have that inform the broader investigation. 

“That means the sky’s the limit with Manafort,” said Joyce Vance, a law professor at the University of Alabama and former U.S. attorney.

Mueller’s probe is strengthened

Manafort is widely viewed as an important witness for Mueller as he seeks to answer the central question in his investigation: whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. 

Manafort worked for the Trump campaign for five months before stepping down as campaign chairman in August 2016, as reports began to surface about his lobbying work for Russian-backed Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych.  

Manafort could offer valuable information about a key flashpoint in the investigation — the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting with a Russian lawyer that Trump himself has said was predicated on getting damaging information on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The White House and the meeting’s participants have said it focused primarily on adoptions of Russian children. 

“Bob Mueller now has an insider into the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor in D.C., who called the cooperation agreement “hugely consequential.”

Manafort also has significant connections to Russia as a result of his lobbying efforts.

“It’s likely that his ties to Russia were so sturdy that if there was collusion between the campaign and Russia, he would have been involved or at least aware of it,” Vance said, adding, “It’s a big ‘if.’ ”

Manafort could be facing significant prison time

Manafort faces anywhere from 210 to 262 months in prison and a $40,000 to $400,000 fine under the sentencing guidelines, according to Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

But the statute caps the sentence at 10 years — five years for each charge, which can be served consecutively. Manafort is also facing a maximum of 80 years in prison for the charges in Virginia, but legal analysts have said it will likely be closer to 7 to 15 years.

In Friday’s deal, the parties agreed the D.C. and Virginia sentences should run concurrently and that Manafort’s sentencing in Virginia can be delayed until he’s fully cooperated with prosecutors.

Berman said the special counsel’s office can also file a request for a lesser sentence, but it won’t necessarily be accepted by the court.

Experts say Manafort could end up serving under 10 years.

“One thing I can conclusively say is Manafort would have been facing a life sentence and my expectation is he will receive somewhere between three to seven years in jail for everything put together,” Seth B. Waxman, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said, noting that Manafort will also get credit for time served.

Waxman called it shocking that Gates and former national security adviser Michael Flynn are now eligible for probation for agreeing to work with prosecutors.

“Mueller’s office is clearly willing to hand out sweetheart deals.”

White House sticks to its strategy: Deal has nothing to do with Trump

The White House responded to the plea deal by insisting the Manafort case is unrelated to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “It is totally unrelated.”

That argument has been paramount in the White House’s messaging strategy with respect to the Russia investigation. Trump, who has railed against the investigation as a political witch hunt, responded to Manafort’s conviction in August by saying it “has nothing to do with Russian collusion.”  

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, meanwhile insisted the president has nothing to be worried about. He told The Hill Friday that, if Mueller’s prosecutors had damaging information on Trump, they “would have had him plead to a conspiracy that would encompass the president.”

Mueller’s probe has ensnared several Trump associates, Manafort being the fourth to plead guilty in the probe.

While Mueller has indicted Russians for interference in the election and charged Manafort and others in crimes unrelated to the campaign, he has not yet made judgements about collusion or whether the president obstructed justice.

But those closely following the case say that does not mean Mueller will not eventually produce evidence of collusion, or other alleged crimes.

“It really is silly to say somehow this is evidence that exonerates the president,” said Kirschner.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Hillary Clinton Jared Kushner Joe Biden Paul Manafort Robert Mueller

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