What does Manafort know?
In plea deal, he agreed to tell all, testify and even work undercover
WASHINGTON — 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.
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, who for months stood resolute in his innocence and determined to fight charge upon charge even as other one-time loyalists caved, reached an extraordinary plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday that requires him to assist the Russia investigation and converts him into a potentially vital government cooperator.
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 questions that remain are what information Manafort, 69, can provide about the president and whether the Trump election effort coordinated 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 sonin-law that was arranged for the campaign to receive derogatory information about Democratic president nominee Hillary Clinton.
He was also a close business associate of a man who U.S. 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 cooperation are likely at a level beyond anyone else to date who has agreed to cooperate,” said Jacob Frenkel, a Washington lawyer not involved in the case. “Whether those expectations will be met is the great unknown.”
In his plea deal, Manafort agreed to provide any information asked of him, testify whenever asked and even work undercover if necessary. The cooperation ensures the investigation will extend far beyond the November elections despite entreaties from the president’s lawyers that Mueller bring it to a close.