‘Manafort cooperation may energise Mueller probe’
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