Your Friday Mueller News Dump this week is a huge one: former Trump Campaign chairman Paul Manafort has cut a plea deal to avoid his second trial in exchange for cooperating with the Mueller probe into Russian collusion.
President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty in a foreign-lobbying and money laundering case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Manafort appeared in a Washington, D.C., courtroom Friday morning, looking relaxed in a suit and purple tie, to formally announce the deal.
The deal dismisses deadlocked charges against Manafort from an earlier trial, but only after "successful cooperation” with Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow on its efforts. Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann did not immediately expand on what cooperation is required under the deal.
The agreement also calls for a 10-year cap on how long Manafort will be sent to prison, and for Manafort to serve time from his separate Virginia and Washington cases concurrently. But it will not release Manafort from jail, where he has been held since Mueller's team added witness tampering charges during the run-up to the longtime lobbyist's trial.
Manafort addressed U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a soft voice, saying “I do” and “I understand” as she asked him whether he understood what rights he’s giving up. A deputy marshal stood directly behind Manafort, a reminder that he remains in custody.
Legal experts quickly spun the deal as a win for all the parties involved. Manafort gets a potentially shorter sentence and lessens his legal bills. Trump avoids several weeks of bad headlines ahead of the midterm elections about his corrupt former campaign aide. And Mueller — faced with Trump's constant claims that his probe is a witch hunt — gets to show yet again that his charges are not fabricated and can now divert resources to other elements of his Russia probe.
But the prospect of Manafort's cooperation with Mueller throws into doubt how much of a win the deal could be for Trump. In addition to running Trump's campaign for several months, Manafort attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting where Trump aides through they might get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Kremlin-linked lawyer.
It's hard to overstate the importance of this deal. Mueller wouldn't take this deal (and the judge overseeing Manafort's case wouldn't) unless it served a greater purpose. And Manafort is still going to get up to ten years tacked on to what he already has from the Virginia trial and he has to forfeit tens of millions in assets, properties, and cash. He might not actually die in prison.
Donald Trump, on the other hand...well the odds of that being his fate just went up somewhat. Even a Trump pardon now won't save Manafort...or Trump. Marcy Wheeler sums it up.
Here’s why this deal is pardon proof:
- Mueller spent the hour and a half delay in arraignment doing … something. It’s possible Manafort even presented the key parts of testimony Mueller needs from him to the grand jury this morning.
- The forfeiture in this plea is both criminal and civil, meaning DOJ will be able to get Manafort’s $46 million even with a pardon.
- Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.
Remember, back in January, Trump told friends and aides that Manafort could incriminate him (the implication was that only Manafort could). I believe Mueller needed Manafort to describe what happened in a June 7, 2016 meeting between the men, in advance of the June 9 meeting. I have long suspected there was another meeting at which Manafort may be the only other Trump aide attendee.
And Manafort has probably already provided evidence on whatever Mueller needed.
So here’s what Robert Mueller just did: He sewed up the key witness to implicate the President, and he paid for the entire investigation. And it’s only now lunch time.
Robert Mueller just gained the most powerful weapon yet in his arsenal to bring down Trump. When that weapon is brought to bear, I imagine it will be devastating.
At the very beginning of his time working in Ukraine in 2003, Paul Manafort was in the employ of one Russia’s richest men, an aluminum magnate called Oleg Deripaska. We lazily describe many Russian oligarchs as residing in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. But in the case of Oleg Deripaska, that closeness is a documented fact.
Between 2003 and 2008, Manafort and his firm worked for Deripaska across Europe—in Montenegro, Georgia, and Ukraine. Over that time, the consultant and client also became business partners. Deripaska invested millions in a private equity fund that Manafort established, with the intent of buying assets across the former Soviet Union. Based on various court filings and lawsuits, we know that the relationship went very badly. In these documents, Deripaska suggests that Manafort might have stolen his money. And based on the Special Prosecutors filings, we also know that Manafort owed Deripaska even more money in the form of unpaid loans. Instead of making an effort to settle these large debts, Deripaska says that Manafort simply stopped returning his messages.
Manafort finally reached out to Deripaska, just after he joined Donald Trump’s campaign. In emails obtained by The Atlantic that Paul Manafort traded with an aide, Manafort proposed giving Deripaska special access to the campaign, with the apparent hope of making his debts disappear. We don’t know what became of Manafort’s outreach to Deripaska. Perhaps, it yielded nothing. Deripaska claims that he never received messages from Manafort in 2016. But it’s also worth watching hidden video footage of Deripaska, sitting on his yacht with a top Putin official, procured by the Russian opposition politicians Alexey Navalny. The video captured a meeting held in August 2016, two weeks before Manafort resigned as campaign chair. According to Navalny, the video lends credibility to theory that Deripaska might have been a crucial intermediary between Manafort and the Kremlin.
This is just part of the answers to burning questions that Mueller could get from Manafort. That's just the start.
And Trump knows it.
If you thought Trump was freaked out before...
But Trump’s anger over Woodward’s book is dwarfed by his continuing fixation on the anonymous New York Times op-ed. Sources told me Trump is “obsessed,” “lathered,” and “freaked out” that the leaker is still in his midst. His son Don Jr. has told people he’s worried Trump isn’t sleeping because of it, a source said. Meetings have been derailed by Trump’s suspicion. “If you look at him the wrong way, he’ll spend the next hour thinking you wrote it,” a Republican close to the White House said. Much of what’s fueling Trump’s paranoia is that he has no clear way to identify the author. One adviser said Trump has instructed aides to call the anonymous author a “coward” in public to shame him or her. “He’s going to continue to shame this person,” a person close to Trump said. “The author will break under pressure or will eventually say, ‘fuck it, it’s me.’” Plans to administer polygraph tests to staff have seemingly died. “Nobody knows who it is,” a former official said.
Oh, and a final thought on why Manafort cooperated from Josh Marshall.
The two words “remain safe” in Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing’s comment on his client’s decision this morning says quite a lot. “He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”
The kind of people that Manafort is giving up here are the kind of people that make sure chatty people's families end up in mysteriously fatal accidents, if you catch my drift.