Plea deal raises ques­tion: What does Manafort know?

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - POLITICS - BY ERIC TUCKER, CHAD DAY AND MICHAEL BALSAMO

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.

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 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 ques­tion re­mains what in­for­ma­tion Manafort, 69, is able to pro­vide about the pres­i­dent, as well as 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 son-in-law that was ar­ranged for the cam­paign to re­ceive deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Demo­cratic pres­i­dent nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

He also was 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.”

Manafort had long re­sisted the idea of co­op­er­at­ing even as pros­e­cu­tors stacked ad­di­tional charges against him in Wash­ing­ton and Vir­ginia. Trump had saluted that stance, pub­licly prais­ing him and sug­gest­ing Manafort had been treated worse than gang­ster Al Capone. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Gi­u­liani, had sug­gested a par­don might be a pos­si­bil­ity af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­cluded.

Then came Fri­day’s de­vel­op­ment.

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.

The agree­ment makes Manafort the lat­est as­so­ciate of Trump, a pres­i­dent known to place a premium on loy­alty among sub­or­di­nates, to ad­mit guilt and work with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in hopes of le­niency.

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 Fri­day carry up to five years, though Manafort’s sen­tence will ul­ti­mately de­pend on his co­op­er­a­tion.

“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 at­tor­ney Kevin Down­ing said out­side court.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders in­sisted the Manafort case was un­re­lated to Trump. Gi­u­liani said he spoke to Trump on Fri­day about Manafort’s plea.

“The pres­i­dent was OK with it,” he said. “In a way, it’s another in­di­ca­tion there is no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion. All of th­ese charges pre­date the time Paul spent with the pres­i­dent. And there’s noth­ing in what he pleaded about col­lu­sion.”

It’s un­clear how the deal might af­fect any Manafort pur­suit of a par­don from Trump, though Gi­u­liani told Politico be­fore the deal that a plea with­out a co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment wouldn’t fore­close the pos­si­bil­ity of a par­don.

DANA VERKOUTEREN VIA AP

This court­room sketch de­picts former Don­ald Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort, cen­ter, and his de­fense lawyer Richard Westling, left, be­fore U.S. Dis­trict Judge Amy Ber­man Jack­son, up­per right, at fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton Fri­day.

AP PHOTO/PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

Mem­bers of the me­dia fol­low at­tor­ney Kevin Down­ing, cen­ter, with the de­fense team for Paul Manafort, leav­ing fed­eral court Fri­day.

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