The former Trump campaign chair will appear in court and plead guilty Friday.
Paul Manafort’s lawyers have reached a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, multiple outlets have reported. The former Trump campaign chair will appear in court in Washington on Friday and plead guilty to a reduced set of charges.
In advance of the court appearance, Mueller’s team has filed a new document that drops some charges and lays out what Manafort will admit to. He’ll plead guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States (related to his foreign lobbying work for Ukraine and his finances), and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice (related to attempted witness tampering earlier this year).
Manafort was convicted of eight counts of financial crimes last month and is expected to face a years-long prison sentence. This new deal will stave off a scheduled second trial for Manafort, which was scheduled to begin in Washington later this month. Reportedly, the two sides have also agreed to resolve 10 mistrial counts from Manafort’s Virginia trial last month. Much of Manafort’s money and property will also be subject to forfeiture, according to the agreement.
Still, there’s an enormously important question that remains unanswered: Will Manafort agree to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference — even if it means flipping on President Donald Trump?
So far, we don’t know the answer to that — but we will soon, when a separate “plea agreement” document is filed. If “cooperation” is listed as a requirement of the plea agreement, it would obligate Manafort to cooperate with Mueller’s team.
Yet not all plea agreements require cooperation. Michael Flynn’s and Rick Gates’s did. But George Papadopoulos’s didn’t — his agreement mentioned that any cooperation he provided would be taken into account at his sentencing, but didn’t list cooperation as a requirement.
Many have long speculated that the special counsel’s main aim in charging Manafort with financial and lobbying crimes was to pressure him to “flip” — so he’d agree to provide information related to their true concern of whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere with the campaign.
But reports have suggested that Manafort was resistant to flipping. And we don’t really know, after all, what information he might have about Trump, or whether Mueller even still needs him.
A plea deal in which Manafort agrees to provide incriminating information about the president and Russia could be enormously consequential. A plea deal where Manafort makes no such commitment would be far less earth-shaking.
Either way, the deal marks the end of one phase of the Mueller investigation. Manafort’s prosecution was the most visible activity of the special counsel’s office so far. It also appeared to be part of an initial stage of the investigation that involved trying to get key Trump aides to flip by charging them with false statements or financial crimes.
Due to this new deal, these initial prosecutions have all been resolved in guilty pleas. Michael Flynn and Rick Gates have been cooperating witnesses for months. George Papadopoulos doesn’t seem to have proved useful as a cooperator, but he got a short jail sentence in September. And while Manafort resisted pleading guilty for a while, the unfavorable verdict in his first trial seems to have spurred him to cut a deal to avoid a second.
All of which poses the question: What’s coming next?