Friday, after reports that he was moving that direction, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort accepted a plea deal instead of heading to a second trial. That second trial was to focus on some of the political aspects of his secret work for pro-Putin interests; as part of its dissolution, he’s pleaded guilty to “conspiracy against the United States.” As part of prosecutors’ acceptance of his guilty plea, they’ve required him to cooperate “fully and truthfully” with their investigative efforts, Judge Amy Berman Jackson explained.
Judge Jackson is the one who, earlier this year, put Manafort in jail after he sought to tamper with witness testimony. From that time in jail, he went on to face his first trial in Virginia, which ended with him being declared guilty on eight counts of fraud.
Obviously, considering his present decision to plead guilty, his previous determination to stick it to prosecutors has vaporized.
His lawyer Kevin Downing cast his client’s decision as made on behalf of his family, saying Manafort pleaded guilty to “make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.” It’s not immediately clear what danger Manafort envisioned his family facing beyond that of potential government seizure of his assets, which has figured in another case involving a former Trump associate, Michael Cohen. The president’s former lawyer Cohen pleaded guilty in a different case earlier this fall, implicating the president in campaign finance law violations.
This time around, the White House has — unsurprisingly — asserted that Manafort’s guilty plea has nothing to do with the president, although we will no doubt be hearing about it on his Twitter feed soon. He’s sought to distance himself from Manafort in the past — and he’s praised him for his now past resolute stance against prosecutors — but he can’t escape the fact that Manafort worked for months as his campaign manager — even though he’s tried. Donald Trump personally and others in his orbit have blatantly lied about the length of time Manafort was on board the Trump team.
Going forward, a number of interests have pointed out at this point that prosecutors likely wouldn’t let Manafort even somewhat “off the hook” unless he could provide useful information about a high value investigative target, although that individual might not be Donald Trump.
That stream of information must remain open no matter where it leads, Judge Jackson explained, asserting that the disgraced political operative must “participate in interviews and debriefings, provide documents and testify in future cases.”
As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti explained:
‘The DOJ does not let defendants cooperate as to some people but not others. If a defendant cooperates, they have to provide the government with truthful and complete answers to any question and be willing to testify in any matter they are asked to be a witness in.’
The next step for the Mueller investigation as a whole and the Trump team in particular remains to be seen. The president and his associates have sought to counter the special counsel at nearly every available opportunity — but it’s not working.
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