Manafort’s plea deal keeps heat on Trump

The New Zealand Herald - - World - Eric Tucker and Chad Day anal­y­sis

As Trump as­so­ciates folded one by one over the last year un­der the pres­sure of fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors, there was al­ways Paul Manafort. Un­til sud­denly there wasn’t. Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, who for months stood res­o­lute in his in­no­cence and de­ter­mined to fight charge upon charge even as fel­low one­time loy­al­ists caved, reached an ex­tra­or­di­nary plea agree­ment with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s of­fice on Satur­day that re­quires him to as­sist the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and con­verts him into a po­ten­tially vi­tal gov­ern­ment co-op­er­a­tor.

The deal, struck in Wash­ing­ton just days be­fore Manafort was to have faced a sec­ond trial, is tied to Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing work and un­re­lated to the Trump cam­paign.

The ques­tion re­mains what in­for­ma­tion Manafort, 69, is able to pro­vide about the Pres­i­dent, as well as whether the Trump elec­tion ef­fort co-or­di­nated with Rus­sia.

Manafort’s lead­er­ship of the cam­paign at a time when pros­e­cu­tors say Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence was work­ing to sway the elec­tion, and his in­volve­ment in episodes un­der scru­tiny, may make him an es­pe­cially in­sight­ful wit­ness.

Manafort was among the par­tic­i­pants in a June 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing in New York with Rus­sians and Trump’s old­est son and son-in-law that was ar­ranged for the cam­paign to re­ceive deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

He was also a close busi­ness as­so­ciate of a man who US in­tel­li­gence be­lieves has ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence. While he was work­ing on the cam­paign, emails show Manafort dis­cussed pro­vid­ing pri­vate brief­ings for a wealthy Rus­sian busi­ness­man close to Vladimir Putin.

“The ex­pec­ta­tions around Manafort’s co-op­er­a­tion are likely at a level be­yond any­one else to date who has agreed to co-op­er­ate,” said Ja­cob Frenkel, a Wash­ing­ton lawyer not in­volved in the case. “Whether those ex­pec­ta­tions will be met is the great un­known.”

Manafort had long re­sisted the idea of co-op­er­at­ing even as pros­e­cu­tors stacked charges against him in Wash­ing­ton and Vir­ginia.

Then came Satur­day’s de­vel­op­ment. Manafort agreed to pro­vide any in­for­ma­tion asked of him, tes­tify when­ever asked and even work un­der­cover if nec­es­sary. The co-op­er­a­tion en­sures the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will ex­tend far be­yond the Novem­ber elec­tions de­spite en­treaties from Trump’s lawyers that Mueller bring it to a close.

Mueller had al­ready se­cured co­op­er­a­tion from a for­mer Trump na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser who lied to the FBI about dis­cussing sanc­tions with a Rus­sian am­bas­sador; a Trump cam­paign aide who broached the idea of a meet­ing with Putin; and an­other aide who was in­dicted along­side Manafort but ul­ti­mately turned on him. Trump’s for­mer per­sonal lawyer has sep­a­rately pleaded guilty in New York.

Manafort was con­victed last month of eight fi­nan­cial crimes in a sep­a­rate trial in Vir­ginia and faces an es­ti­mated seven to 10 years in prison in that case. The two con­spir­acy counts he admit­ted to on Satur­day carry up to five years, though Manafort’s sen­tence will ul­ti­mately de­pend on his co-op­er­a­tion.

“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,” Manafort lawyer Kevin Down­ing said out­side court.

Un­der the terms of the deal, Manafort was al­lowed to plead guilty to just two counts, though the crimes he admit­ted largely over­lap with the con­duct al­leged in an in­dict­ment last year. He aban­doned his right to ap­peal his sen­tences in Wash­ing­ton and Vir­ginia and agreed to for­feit homes in New York, in­clud­ing a condo in Trump Tower.

But the guilty plea spares Manafort the cost of a weeks-long trial that could have added years to the prison

The ex­pec­ta­tions around Manafort’s co-op­er­a­tion are likely at a level be­yond any­one else to date who has agreed to co-op­er­ate. Whether those ex­pec­ta­tions will be met is the great un­known.

Ja­cob Frenkel

time he’s al­ready fac­ing fol­low­ing the Vir­ginia guilty ver­dicts. A jury there found him guilty of fil­ing false tax re­turns, fail­ing to re­port for­eign bank ac­counts and bank fraud. Ju­rors dead­locked on 10 other counts.

Pros­e­cu­tors on Satur­day pre­sented new in­for­ma­tion about al­le­ga­tions they were pre­pared to re­veal at trial, which was to have fo­cused on Manafort’s po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing and lob­by­ing work on be­half of for­mer Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and the pro-Rus­sian Party of Re­gions.

That case al­leged that Manafort di­rected a large-scale US lob­by­ing op­er­a­tion for Ukrainian in­ter­ests, and that he con­cealed mil­lions of dol­lars in in­come for the con­sult­ing work from the IRS.

An­other al­le­ga­tion re­vealed on Satur­day con­cerns Manafort’s ef­forts to ped­dle sto­ries to dis­credit Yanukovych’s op­po­nent, Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, and un­der­mine US gov­ern­ment sup­port for her.

Pros­e­cu­tors said he spread sto­ries and se­cretly co-or­di­nated with an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial to pub­li­cise the idea that a US Cab­i­net of­fi­cial was an anti-Semite for sup­port­ing Ty­moshenko, “who in turn had formed a po­lit­i­cal al­liance with a Ukraine party that es­poused anti-Semitic views”, court doc­u­ments said.

“I have some­one push­ing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom,” Manafort wrote to a col­league, pros­e­cu­tors say.

Don­ald Trump

Paul Manafort

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