Published: Sat, September 15, 2018
World Media | By Cesar Oliver

Manafort plea deal begs key question: What does he know?

Manafort plea deal begs key question: What does he know?

"Flipping" Paul Manafort (above right) was "a big win" for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, one expert says.

Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will cooperate with the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a dramatic turnaround that deals the US president a setback.

In recent days, as the Manafort plea talks were ongoing, the President's legal team expressed confidence that if Manafort signed a cooperation agreement it wouldn't have anything to do with the President, according to a source briefed on their thinking.

Later in 2016, Manafort oversaw the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump for the presidency.

He was among the participants in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians and Trump's oldest son and son-in-law that was arranged for the campaign to receive derogatory information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Manafort also admitted that he and his former business associate Rick Gates conspired to launder huge sums of money to avoid paying taxes and misled accountants about the existence of their offshore accounts. And during his Virginia trial in August, Manafort's lawyers spent considerable time painting Gates as a liar, embezzler, philanderer and turncoat who would say anything to get a lighter prison sentence. "Whether those expectations will be met is the great unknown". Trump had saluted that stance, publicly praising him and suggesting Manafort had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone.

Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump's personal lawyer, originally issued a statement that read: "Once again, an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign", the statement read.

Then came Friday's extraordinary development when Manafort agreed to provide any information asked of him, testify whenever asked and even work undercover if necessary.

On the other hand, if he cooperates "fully and truthfully" with Mueller but does not implicate the President, he will nearly surely receive a presidential pardon.

Cornell University professor of law Jens David Ohlin said it was hard to predict what information a cooperation agreement will yield but that Manafort's plea deal could be a serious problem for Trump.

FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is shown in a jail booking photo taken in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., July 12, 2018.

He was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia and faces an estimated seven to 10 years in prison in that case. The two conspiracy counts he pleaded guilty to on Friday carry up to five years in prison, though Manafort's sentence will ultimately depend on his cooperation. "He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life".

But Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has received a lot of flak over the a year ago for defending Trump at times despite being a self-described liberal, says Team Trump should be deeply concerned about Manafort's agreement to fully cooperate with Mueller investigation, though he stressed that it's unlikely Manafort would have any evidence that could lead to impeachment.

In response to the guilty plea, the White House emphasized that the charges relating to Manafort's activities had "nothing to do" with the 2016 election.

The language of the plea agreement is "really one-sided", she said.

"The president was OK with it", he said. Trump's critics have pointed to the meeting as evidence of the collusion with Russian Federation that Trump denies. "And there's nothing in what he pleaded about collusion".

Though he was charged with only two counts, the statement of offense required Manafort to admit to much of the illegal conduct alleged by federal prosecutors over the past 11 months. He abandoned his right to appeal his sentences in Washington and Virginia and agreed to forfeit homes in NY, including a condo in Trump Tower.

"If Manafort is willing to give Mueller information about Trump's contacts with Russian Federation, whether the contacts were direct or indirect, then this really is a disaster for Trump and his associates". In the filing on Friday, Mueller's office said Manafort laundered more than $30 million from his work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, then "used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States".

The first conspiracy count details how Manafort knowingly and willfully acted as a lobbyist for Ukrainian politicians without properly registering with the Department of Justice.

Another allegation revealed Friday concerns Manafort's efforts to peddle stories to discredit Yanukovych's opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, and undermine U.S. government support for her.

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