Despite their feigned lack of concern at the White House, Team Trump’s butts are puckering this morning. Robert Mueller has caught another witch in Donald Trump’s “witch hunt,” and is now closing the circle around the Trump crime family.
The New York Times reports, Paul Manafort Agrees to Cooperate With Special Counsel, Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charges:
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, agreed on Friday to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to reduced charges. See, Superceding Criminal Information (.pdf).
.Appearing in United States District Court in Washingon, Mr. Manafort entered guilty pleas on two charges. Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that there was a cooperation agreement with Mr. Manafort.
Additional reporting from The Washington Post:
Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said at the beginning of Friday’s plea hearing that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Speaking at the hearing before U.S. District Court judge Amy Berman Jackson, Weissmann said the 17-page plea agreement (.pdf) included the terms of Manafort’s expected cooperation.
It was not immediately clear what information he might be providing to prosecutors or how the plea agreement might affect Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related questions about possible collusion by the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump.
As part of the deal, the government will seize four of Mr. Manafort’s homes as well as the money in a number of bank accounts, the documents say.
In documents filed with the United States District Court in Washington, prosecutors from Mr. Mueller’s office charged Mr. Manafort with one count of conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Mr. Manafort pleaded guilty to those charges.
The prosecutors dropped five other charges encompassing money laundering and violations of a lobbying disclosure law.
Mr. Manafort was convicted last month on bank and tax fraud charges after a trial in federal court in Alexandria, Va. He was scheduled to face a second trial on seven separate but related charges in Washington starting next week. The charges stem from work he did as a political consultant in Ukraine.
The plea deal is another unsettling development for Mr. Trump. For months, Mr. Trump has praised Mr. Manafort for fighting the charges. In private discussions with his lawyers, Mr. Trump has raised the possibility of pardoning Mr. Manafort.
Additional reporting from The Washington Post:
Trump has sought advice from his attorneys on the possibility of pardoning Manafort and other aides accused of crimes, his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani previously told The Washington Post, and was counseled against pardoning anyone involved in the ongoing Mueller probe. The president agreed to wait at least until the investigation concludes, Giuliani has said.
So far, four former Trump aides have pleaded guilty to charges related to the special counsel investigation: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer; Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser; Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman; and George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser. And Paulie makes five!
Mr. Manafort, who has repeatedly insisted that he would not cooperate with the special counsel, has been reassessing his legal risks after last month’s trial. He was found guilty in that case of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account, crimes that legal experts predicted were likely to result in a prison term of six to 12 years.
Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor from Virginia who has been tracking Manafort’s case called the plea “another huge victory and a seminal moment for the Mueller team.”
“In sum, a big day for the investigation,” he added. “A witch hunt? Far from it.”
Jury selection for Manafort’s D.C. trial was set to begin on Monday, with opening arguments scheduled for a week later.
UPDATE: Marcy Wheeler at Empty Wheel posts, CHECKMATE: THE MANAFORT COOPERATION IS PARDON PROOF:
[N]o one outside of the deal knew that the plea did include cooperation until Manafort was already pleading guilty.
And at this point, the deal is pardon proof. That was part of keeping the detail secret: to prevent a last minute pardon from Trump undercutting it.
Here’s why this deal is pardon proof:
- 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.
- 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.
- Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.
Remember, back in January, Trump told friends and aides that Manafort could incriminate him (the implication was that only Manafort could). I believe Mueller needed Manafort to describe what happened in a June 7, 2016 meeting between the men, in advance of the June 9 meeting. I have long suspected there was another meeting at which Manafort may be the only other Trump aide attendee.
And Manafort has probably already provided evidence on whatever Mueller needed.
So here’s what Robert Mueller just did: He sewed up the key witness to implicate the President, and he paid for the entire investigation. And it’s only now lunch time.