Manafort Flips on Trump: Total Cooperation Agreement With Mueller
President Donald Trump has had not had a stellar few weeks — in fact, to call them lousy would be an understatement. Today, things got a lot worse with what many pundits are calling the “stunning” development that hia former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has “flipped” and will now be cooperating extensively with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed Friday to provide testimony to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as part of a plea deal that could answer some of the most critical questions about whether any Americans conspired with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
The decision to cooperate with Mueller in hopes of a lesser prison sentence is a stunning development, signaling Manafort’s surrender to criminal charges that he cheated the Internal Revenue Service, violated foreign lobbying laws and tried to obstruct justice while opening a new potential legal vulnerability for Trump.
“I plead guilty,” Manafort told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson at a hearing Friday morning in federal court in the District. As part of his plea, Manafort admitted to years of financial crimes to hide his money from the IRS and promised to tell the government about “his participation in and knowledge of all criminal activities.”
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Flipping Manafort gives Mueller a cooperating witness who was at key events relevant to the Russia investigation — a Trump Tower meeting attended by a Russian lawyer, the Republican National Convention and a host of other behind-the-scenes discussions in the spring and summer of 2016.
“This is a big win for Mueller’s team. Gaining Manafort’s cooperation has always been viewed as the Holy Grail of this investigation,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. “It now remains to be seen what Manafort can provide, but it is unlikely that prosecutors would have been willing to strike this deal unless they were already convinced that he has valuable information.”
Court papers indicate Manafort was talking in detail to prosecutors at least as early as Monday — making multiple statements and a written proffer to investigators as the two sides worked toward a deal.
In return for his cooperation, Manafort hopes to have years shaved off a potential 10-year prison sentence and see his family hold on to some property.
Kevin Downing, an attorney for Manafort, gave a brief statement outside the courthouse after the hearing. “He wanted to make sure his family remained safe and live a good life,” Downing said of Manafort. “He has accepted responsibility.”
Politico notes that this deal seems to be pardon proof:
The plea deal special counsel Robert Mueller granted to Paul Manafort on Friday appears built to be pardon-proof.
That doesn’t mean President Donald Trump won’t try to legally absolve Manafort anyway, a step the president has considered taking for months. But Friday‘s events mean Trump’s ability to contain the legal damage from his former campaign chairman is now severely limited.
Two new factors appear to stymie the impact of a potential Trump pardon for Manafort.
The first is that Manafort is already talking. One obvious rationale for a pardon would be to reward Manafort for holding out against Mueller’s pressure for cooperation in building a case against the president or those close to him. But Manafort’s lead lawyer said Friday his client has already cooperated with Mueller’s team, and Friday’s plea agreement says that Manafort “shall cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the Government and other law enforcement authorities identified by the Government in any and all matters to which the Government deems the cooperation relevant.”
Even if Trump might have hoped to stop Manafort from singing, Friday’s plea suggests he has already reached the first chorus.
The pivotal questions Mueller’s lawyers want to ask — including about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians attended by Manafort along with Donald Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — have likely already been asked and answered with Manafort’s testimony locked in.
“Mueller likely already has all of Manafort’s information,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted Friday. “You get the information before you offer the agreement.”
The Daily Beast is even blunter: now that he has flipped, Manafort is “an existential threat” to Trump (which means get ready for a massive attempt to discredit him via tweets and of course Sean
Hackety Hannity and others on Fox News:
On Friday morning, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pled guilty in federal court in Washington, D.C. to two counts of conspiracy relating to his work as an unregistered agent for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, among other crimes. Manafort pled guilty not to a straight plea agreement — where both sides give a little, cut their losses, and go their separate ways — but, stunningly, to a cooperation agreement. Paul Manafort’s cooperation agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller is an existential threat to the Trump presidency.
During Friday’s plea proceeding, Mueller’s deputy Andrew Weissman stated on the record that Manafort already has proffered with Mueller’s team. That means that, at a minimum, the process of downloading information from Manafort has begun, and presumably has gotten far enough along that Mueller felt comfortable making a deal with Manafort.
Of course, now that he has pled guilty and agreed to be sentenced for all of his criminal conduct, Manafort now has to actually cooperate with Mueller. That means, in essence, that Mueller now owns Manafort. Manafort has to do everything Mueller asks: provide information to investigators upon request, testify in the grand jury, turn over documents to Mueller, and testify at trial. If Manafort is truly on board as a cooperator, then Mueller knows, or soon will know, everything Manafort knows. That must be a scary thought for the president.
Indeed, Manafort seems uniquely positioned to deliver extraordinary — perhaps even historic — cooperation. Manafort is situated differently than the other cooperators who have given information to Mueller thus far. Manafort sat in the inner sanctum of Trump world, while prior cooperators like former campaign official Rick Gates and former campaign advisor George Papadopoulos were more like B-listers. Ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn and ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (who according to recent reporting, may be speaking with Mueller as well) both had insider access to Trump.
But Manafort looks to have been Trump’s primary conduit to Russia, while Flynn had more limited Russian contacts and Cohen dealt more with Trump’s local and domestic finances. Of all the people in Trump’s orbit, the one who most likely has information about a possible conspiracy with the Russian government — aside from Vladimir Putin himself — is Paul Manafort.
If we were at the proffer table with Manafort, we’d start with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which a team of Russian emissaries set up by offering Donald Trump Jr. “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. (Junior’s infamous reply: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”) How did the meeting come about? Were there any internal pre-meetings to prepare for the Russians? Did anyone tell Trump about the meeting before it happened? Who was involved in crafting the public statement claiming that the meeting was mostly about adoptions? Why did the Trump team feel the need to lie to the public about the meeting afterwards? Note that the president is not the only person who will lose sleep tonight. The two other campaign officials in the Trump Tower meeting, Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner, might want to go have a talk with their attorneys tomorrow morning as well.
Manafort’s cooperation could change everything. He had close access to Trump, and his knowledge should go not merely to collateral matters but right to the heart of Russian conspiracy with Trump and his campaign. The closest members of Trump’s inner circle and family now face genuine danger of criminal indictment, and Mueller may even have the evidence to implicate the president in a crime, or at least to make a strong recommendation of impeachment to Congress. To be fair, perhaps Manafort doesn’t have the goods on Trump, or can’t directly implicate him in Russian election interference. Either way, we will know soon enough whether Trump’s oft-repeated cry of “no collusion” is reality, or the final delusional gasp from a deeply troubled president.
Manafort’s cooperation is the start of a new chapter in the special counsel’s investigation, according to Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and Norman L. Eisen in a New York Times opinion piece:
Those who practice criminal law — including the three of us — have long predicted that Paul Manafort, the disgraced former Trump campaign chairman, would eventually fold to Robert Mueller, the special counsel. On Friday, we were proven right: Mr. Manafort and the special counsel have reached an extensive cooperation agreement, among the most significant developments in Mr. Mueller’s investigation to date.
The capitulation came in spectacular fashion: According to prosecutors, Mr. Manafort has already participated in a so-called proffer session, in which he described information that investigators deemed valuable. Mr. Manafort’s agreement will also require him to give further interviews without the presence of his own counsel, turn over documents and testify in other proceedings. His surrender is complete. We will soon see what it means for the president.
Mr. Manafort’s cooperation obviously represents an enormous pivot from the previous strategies he had seemed to be pursuing — trying to persuade a jury to ignore the strong evidence against him based on personal sympathies or, if that failed, to obtain a pardon from President Trump. In our estimation, this about-face represents a realistic judgment on his part, not to mention vindication of Mr. Mueller’s strategy so far.
A quick pardon was always a long shot. It would be hard for Mr. Trump to justify politically, even given his willingness to use the pardon power with seeming abandon. A pardon would not protect Mr. Manafort from the wide array of state charges that could be brought against him.
Mr. Manafort now has the ability to trade all of the valuable information he has regarding the president and those close to him for a significantly reduced prison sentence. He is the first Trump campaign participant in the now-infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting to break with the president.
Mysteries around that meeting abound. They include whether then-candidate Trump knew about the meeting in advance and why Mr. Trump announced after the meeting had been scheduled that he would soon be giving a major speech on “ the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” Now that Mr. Manafort is cooperating, we may soon have answers.
If all that were not bad enough news for Mr. Trump, Mr. Manafort may also be able to shed light on other episodes during his tenure at the helm of the Trump campaign.
For Mr. Mueller, the plea deal and cooperation agreement represent momentum: more evidence of his continued success in bringing wrongdoers around the president to justice. It vindicates his strategy of methodically building cases against those in Mr. Trump’s circle and applying pressure on them to cooperate up the chain.
For the president, it is ominous. Yet another person who was in Mr. Trump’s immediate orbit has fallen to the rule of law. Now that Mr. Manafort is helping the investigation and may testify in future criminal proceedings — not to mention congressional ones — Mr. Trump cannot be resting easy.
But most important, for the American people, today’s outcome is further proof that no one — no matter how important or powerful — is immune from justice. Mr. Trump would do well to study the heights from which his former top aide has fallen, and the depth of his plunge.
Read the article in its entirety.
Meanwhile, on the Michael Cohen front, there could be more bad news for Trump sometime soon:
In recent weeks, it has also become common knowledge among close friends of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, that Cohen is talking to the Mueller team, according to people familiar with the situation. (Cohen did not respond to request for comment, nor did his attorney, Guy Petrillo. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.)
The extent and purpose of those talks is not entirely clear. Last month, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, lying to a bank, and campaign-finance violations. During his allocution in front of a packed courtroom, Cohen read carefully chosen words stating that Trump had directed him to make payments to two women who had alleged affairs with the then-candidate, implicating the president as his co-conspirator. Trump subsequently criticized Cohen, contrasting his disloyalty with the contemporaneous actions of Manafort, who he tweeted had “refused to break” by making up stories in order to get a deal. “Such respect for a brave man!” he added. (Trump has denied sexual relationships with both women, and has maintained that he did nothing wrong.)
These developments increase speculation about if and when Trump will attempt to fire Mueller — but also ensure a political firestorm if he does. Which a GOP now worried about holding the Senate let alone the House doesn’t need.
Flashback. August 19, 2016. Newt Gingrich: "Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this campaign to where it is right now." pic.twitter.com/OlTOpC1B1l
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 14, 2018
Robert Mueller doesn’t play for the blue team or for the red team. He calls the shots as he sees them.
And Putin would not be messing with us if we had more people like Mueller on the American team.https://t.co/vfZLjy1bap
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) September 15, 2018
Today, Paul Manafort admitted doing everything from money laundering to bank fraud to witness tampering. His guilty plea covers criminal activity spanning 12 years. (2006-2018) When prosecutors described his crimes, the judge said it was the longest re-telling she has ever heard.
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) September 15, 2018
Manafort has flipped! BOOM (the sound of broomsticks breaking the sound barrier crashing to earth – NO witches). The entire Trump family now in jeopardy. No pardon for Paul from Trump. No nice things to say about Mansfort by Rudy. Nightmares at the White House will be unending.
— John Dean (@JohnWDean) September 14, 2018
John Dowd emails other lawyers involved in the Trump case and says of Manafort, “PM has no info on President or campaign.”
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 14, 2018
Manafort and Cohen are now competin' against each other for who can bury Trump the fastest. Ain't capitalism great?https://t.co/wh3dy4GIhG
— Tea Pain (@TeaPainUSA) September 14, 2018
Manafort’s proffer to avoid dying in prison, as detailed on @AriMelber was total and abject capitulation to Robert Muller’s team. It was Nothing short of wholesale, complete and absolute surrender. Trump should be terrified. #ManafortPleaDeal #SCHADENFREUDELICIOUS
— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) September 14, 2018
Anyone recall who hand-picked Pence as Trump’s VP? Paul Manafort. And recall who led the squirrely transition? Mike Pence. Watch what unfolds as Manafort tells Mueller all he knows!
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 14, 2018
Trump placed “a large number” of phone calls to Manafort, and all of them went straight to voice mail until it was full, White House sources have confirmed, after which Trump hurled his phone across the room, narrowly missing Pence’s headhttps://t.co/zRxrSSVyHQ
— Alfons López Tena #FBPE (@alfonslopeztena) September 15, 2018
Shorter this article: it's too *late* for a pardon. If Manafort started cooperating 4 days ago, which is what media is reporting, Mueller has a *massive* stock of information from him already. Trump could pardon him *right now* and much of the damage may already have been done. https://t.co/ydaYrueEsF
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) September 15, 2018
Sean Hannity reacts to Manafort plea deal by attacking the "cancer" growing in "every single intelligence agency" https://t.co/qUCDCQg7ok
— #TheResistance (@SocialPowerOne1) September 15, 2018