Manafort Flips

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It finally happened — Paul Manafort flipped.

The former Trump campaign chair appeared in court in Washington on Friday and pleaded guilty to a reduced set of charges. And as part of his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, prosecutors said, Manafort agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

It’s enormously important news for the Russia investigation. 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 election.

Now, it’s happened. And that should make President Donald Trump very nervous indeed.

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, as well as dismissing 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.

In advance of Manafort’s court appearance Friday, Mueller’s team filed a new document that drops some charges and lays out what Manafort will admit to. He pleaded 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).

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.

We don’t know the exact terms of the plea deal, but there is a reason for that: prosecutors want to make Manafort pardon-proof.  Keeping the detail secret was meant to prevent a last minute pardon from Trump undercutting it.

Here’s why this deal is pardon proof:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.

This tweet didn’t age well:

Statement from White House: “This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign,” said Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. “It is totally unrelated.”

Yes. The crimes Manafort has pleaded guilty to ARE totally unrelated to the presidential campaign. But the information that Manafort is turning over in his cooperation with Mueller?  Priceless.  And related to Trump.

Some are calling it Trump’s worst tweet, which is an honor that has much competition.

And it looks like the Trump White House was thrown off a little by the cooperation agreement news:

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, issued a statement saying, “Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

But just minutes later, Giuliani issued a revised statement that conspicuously omitted the “and Paul Manafort will tell the truth” part and merely said “The President did nothing wrong.”