Paul Manafort and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have agreed to a plea deal today, according to an ABC News report. This comes after several days of various major news outlets reporting that serious negotiations were underway, and after the trial judge postponed pretrial hearings without explanation. Now that they’ve agreed on a plea deal, here’s what happens next – and what happens to Donald Trump.
ABC says that it’s not yet clear whether the terms of the Manafort deal will formally require him to cooperate against Donald Trump and other Trump-Russia figures. But as Palmer Report explained earlier in the week, that doesn’t really matter. The Michael Cohen plea deal didn’t formally require cooperation, but hours after Cohen cut that deal, he went into court and named Trump an unindicted co-conspirator. Cohen has since reportedly been cooperating with Federal and state authorities as they investigate the Trump Organization. Cohen is clearly trying to get a shorter prison sentence by cooperating as much as possible.
Manafort, who is sixty-nine years old, is also seeking the shortest prison sentence possible. He’s already been convicted of eight felonies, and he was likely going to be convicted of dozens more, meaning he would have spent the rest of his natural life in prison. If he doesn’t cooperate as part of his plea deal, he’ll get a bit of leniency, but it won’t matter due to his advanced age. So of course he’s going to cooperate against Donald Trump, or the deal would serve no purpose for him. The real question here is what he knows.
Robert Mueller already has a plea deal with Paul Manafort’s longtime sidekick Rick Gates, who has some of the same Russian financial ties, and who served as Donald Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. So Manafort’s usefulness as a cooperating witness comes down to what he knows about Trump that Gates doesn’t. There is reason to expect that Manafort and Trump had plenty of one-on-one conversations during the election. In addition, Manafort attended Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower – and he could easily sell out Junior as part of his deal. And no, Manafort isn’t cutting a deal so Trump can pardon him; that’s not how anything works.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report