A plea deal by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to cooperate with USA prosecutors in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election suggests he could shed light on unanswered questions revolving around the campaign, legal experts said on Friday.
As part of the lobbying campaign, Manafort admitted to hiring four former European heads of state and senior officials, including a former Austrian chancellor, an Italian prime minister, and a Polish president. A judge sent him to prison when prosecutors accused him of attempting to tamper with the testimony of two witnesses.
In this photo from July 21, 2016, then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort stands between the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump during a walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
In this photo from Manafort's consutling offices, Konstantin Kilimnik, who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence, poses for a photo with Manafort and others. "Whether those expectations will be met is the great unknown".
Manafort, however, continues to hold a literal "Trump card", which he may elect to play only at the conclusion of court proceedings in his case.
A court hearing was scheduled Friday for Paul Manafort amid reports that President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman was nearing a plea deal to avoid trial on charges stemming from work he did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Paul Manafort seated (L) as his lawyer speaks in court.
There was some concern about the risk to Mr Mueller's investigation faced going into the Manafort trials. As a political consultant in Ukraine and former business partner of Russian oligarchs, Manafort had a network of relationships in the former Soviet bloc that could shed light on the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
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Mueller had already secured cooperation from a former national security adviser who lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador; a campaign aide who broached the idea of a meeting with Putin; and another aide who was indicted alongside Manafort but ultimately turned on him.
But what Manafort knows about the Trump Tower Russian meeting may be only "the tip of the iceberg", according to Vox's worldwide security expert Alex Ward.
Taking the plea deal is a stunning reversal of legal strategy for Manafort, who endured a three-week trial in Eastern Virginia in which the government presented a highly compelling case to extract guilty verdicts on eight of 18 counts.
The President has been quite publicly supportive of Manafort since criminal charges were first filed against his former campaign chairman. "He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life".
It's been reported that two weeks before Trump accepted the GOP nomination, Paul Manafort offered "private briefings" on the state of the 2016 election to Russian Oligarch, and close Putin ally, Oleg Deripaska (who also has ties to Kilimnik). "This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign", the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement. In comments to Politico before the plea deal, Giuliani said a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon. "There's nothing he can testify to that would probably lend weight to impeachment because he didn't have close contact with President Trump while he was president", he said. "In a way, it's another indication there is no evidence of collusion".
It's not yet clear if Manafort, who has been jailed since June, will face prison time. 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.
Still, Friday's move gives Mueller another successful conviction while allowing Manafort to avoid facing another costly public trial. Manafort did not contest the other five counts against him. To accomplish this goal, he hoped to spread the allegation of anti-Semitism against former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a maneuver that was supposed to bolster the standing in Washington of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
The charges replace a raft of separate accusations that Manafort had failed to register as a foreign agent, lied to the government, laundered money and committed fraud.