BY: TANNER KENNEY
On Friday, September 14, 2018, President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort reached an agreement to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and his team investigating interference in the 2016 elections. Manafort’s stunning about-face, when given his previous actions and statements, sees him pleading guilty to one count each of conspiracy and tampering; he will be required to forfeit significant assets, allowing him to avoid being charged with tax fraud and failure to register as a foreign agent, among other crimes.
The agreement was announced during an 11:00am EST hearing in a D.C. Circuit courtroom before Judge Amy Berman Jackson wherein prosecutors also indicated they would not seek a retrial of 10 charges that were declared a mistrial by Judge T.S. Ellis III in a Virginia courtroom. The hearing concluded at 12:13pm EST with Judge Berman Jackson ruling that Manafort would remain in the custody of federal authorities. Additionally, both legal teams are to present status reports in 60 days time with no date for sentencing announced, similar to the deal agreed to by former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn.
Today’s announcements come merely days after an announcement by President Trump’s personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that his client and Manafort have entered into a joint-defense agreement. Reacting to the revelations made at today’s hearing, Giuliani stated that Manafort’s cooperation deal has “nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump Campaign.”
Due to the nature by which this agreement is enforced, it appears increasingly unlikely that there is a path to freedom for Manafort via presidential pardon. But that may not matter as the Special Counsel has highly incentivized the plea agreement and is prepared to offer a “5K letter” – essentially, should Manafort cooperate with Mueller’s team to its total satisfaction, the Special Counsel will file a motion to significantly reduce Manafort’s prison sentence.
In responding to questions from reporters, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that the agreement was “totally unrelated” to the President, White House, and the Trump Campaign, as part of an ever-shifting PR campaign. Moreover, Trump’s legal team says it is not worried about Manafort testifying against Trump or anyone else in the Administration, claiming the maneuver was merely to save time and money for both the plaintiff and defendant, stating it is “pretty clear if they were going to get anything from him they’d have gotten it already.”
As late as Friday morning, the charges against Manafort in front of Judge Berman Jackson would have brought with them hundreds of years in prison, which is to say nothing of the crimes he was already found guilty of in Judge Ellis III’s courtroom, thereby making his cooperation nearly inevitable, given the debts he also carries. All of this is to say nothing of the cooperation agreement inked by former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen in order to protect his family.
Lastly, Manafort’s guilty plea is not just another in a long line of similar cooperation agreements for members of the Trump Campaign and Administration with the Special Counsel as its election-meddling probe marches forward. The investigation has ensnared low- and mid-level aides, advisors and associates connected to American politics in an ever-widening effort to curb international election interference, campaign finance violations, voter disenfranchisement, amongst others. At the same time, the Trump Organization’s CFO, Allan Weisselberg, has also been granted immunity to testify in front of a federal grand jury and former Trump Campaign Advisor George Papadopoulos has been sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to FBI agents supporting the Mueller Investigation.
And none of this takes into account the potentially damaging testimony provided by American Media, Inc. CEO David J. Pecker in front of a federal grand jury following the revelations that he was also granted immunity by the Southern District of New York. Only time will tell when and where the Mueller Investigation will wrap-up, but it has already been one of the most fruitful in the history of American criminal justice.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.
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