Manafort’s plea agree- ment and cooperation with Mueller

The rundown and what it could mean for the future of the Russia investigation, simply explained


Paul Manafort’s team previously sought a deal that did not involve cooperation in the Mueller investigation. Photo via Wikipedia.

During the week of Aug. 20, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found by a jury to be guilty of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. Manafort reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors on Sept. 14 that carries with it significant questions about the future of the Russia investigation. First, a breakdown of the plea deal, and next, a discussion of its meaning for the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Trump and aides have noted on a number of occasions their confidence in Manafort’s holding up to Mueller’s investigation. In the words of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney, “There’s no fear that Paul Manafort would cooperate against the president because there’s nothing to cooperate about, and we long ago evaluated him as an honorable man.”

Indeed, Manafort previously put forth that he would not cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. But with four former Trump aides, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos, having plead guilty to charges relating to the investigation, and with Manafort’s negotiations with federal prosecutors resulting in a plea deal, a different scenario is taking shape.

The deal brought on a new set of issues to consider. The agreement would help Manafort avoid a second trial next week, but would require that he cooperates with Robert Mueller in his investigation as it moves forward.

Said former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer, “This is a 70-year-old guy who has never seen the inside of prison. It’s one thing to intellectually wrap your mind around going to jail for a decade. It’s another thing to stare that square in the eye, which is what Manafort’s doing tonight.”

This development has drawn much discussion, because as Trump’s former campaign chairman, Manafort was very closely involved with a range of the administration’s actions during the campaign, and it is speculated that he could potentially offer consequential information to Mueller in the future. Trump has referred to such an act of “flipping” as something that “ought to be outlawed.”

Doctoral student and teaching assistant in UNO’s Department of Political Science Deborah Toscano said on  the overall direction of the investigation, “I’ve always thought … that, rather than some sort of collusion, this is about money laundering, or finances or some sort of bank dealings Trump has with Russia, or a loan that he owes them, or something like that. And I feel that Paul Manafort fits that link; he kind of connects that, because he had a lot of financial dealings. So I think he’s more of a connection to that than any sort of collusion.”

Another point of discussion that has emerged relates to the issue of presidential power. Prior to the plea deal, analysts considered the influence that Trump’s potential pardoning power could have over Manafort’s decision to go forward with a deal.

“What makes the Manafort case unique,” describes former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter, “is that there is a shadow hanging over it, which is the presidential pardon power.” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s statement to the Daily News that “things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons” has drawn a range of responses on this subject.

Toscano considers the subject; a similar theme has surfaced in her response.

My question was, is he trying to get a pardon from Trump? I’m just wondering how a pardon plays out after this is all done. If he thinks that he’s plead[ed] guilty, is there still a pardon for him on the table? If it means no jail time, then a pardon wouldn’t be necessary.”