‘Manafort co­op­er­a­tion may en­er­gise Mueller probe’

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION - Paul Manafort

REUTERS: A plea deal by for­mer Don­ald 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.

Manafort’s agree­ment with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller to co­op­er­ate “fully, truth­fully, com­pletely, and forthrightly” could put to the test Trump’s de­nials of cam­paign col­lu­sion with Rus­sia, lawyers not in­volved in the case said.

Randall Elia­son, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor and a law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, said the agree­ment, which caps at 10 years a sen­tence which could have been much longer, was a “pretty good deal” that sug­gested the Mueller team val­ued Manafort’s co­op­er­a­tion.

Rudy Gi­u­liani, who is rep­re­sent­ing Trump in the Rus­sia probe, told Reuters on Fri­day that Manafort “knows noth­ing harm­ful to the pres­i­dent and the plea is the best ev­i­dence of that.” The White House said in a state­ment that the agree­ment had “ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do” with the pres­i­dent or his 2016 cam­paign.

Manafort at­tended a June 2016 meet­ing be­tween Rus­sian rep­re­sen­ta­tives and top cam­paign of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Trump’s son and son-in-law, who ex­pected to re­ceive deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Any light Manafort could shed on that meet­ing and other episodes could deepen the Mueller probe, le­gal ex­perts said, in­creas­ing the pres­sure on Trump.

Don­ald Trump Jr, who or­gan­ised the meet­ing with Krem­lin­linked Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya and oth­ers, ini­tially said it was mainly to dis­cuss a programme on adop­tions of Rus­sian chil­dren. The pres­i­dent has since ac­knowl­edged the meet­ing was set up to find out dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Clin­ton but it was “to­tally le­gal”.

Some le­gal ex­perts said that if Trump and his ad­vis­ers know­ingly so­licited help from Rus­sia, they may have vi­o­lated cam­paign fi­nance laws, and a statute that crim­i­nalises con­spir­a­cies to im­pair the func­tion­ing of the US gov­ern­ment.

Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors might also be look­ing to Manafort to learn whether the Trump team of­fered any­thing to the Rus­sians in ex­change for cam­paign help, said Seth Wax­man, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. REUTERS


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