Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision to push back a scheduled pretrial hearing in the Manafort trial has raised suspicions that the onetime Trump campaign executive might be pursuing a plea deal with prosecutors after he was convicted of tax evasion and campaign finance violations last month.
Per the Washington Post, Manafort, 69, who is facing a potentially lengthy stay in prison, may be looking to cut a deal after President Trump has refused to confirm whether he would pardon Manafort after the trial – though Trump has famously praised Manafort for refusing to “break” during his trial, and even gone so far as to suggest that the DOJ shouldn’t be allowed to flip suspects.
I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
Sources “close to Manafort” told WaPo that his legal team recently engaged in negotiations with the special counsel’s office over a possible plea agreement. The talks are still in their early stages and there is no indication that they will lead to a deal, but the idea that Manafort – who has adamantly refused to cooperate even as other Trump associates have agreed to turn state’s evidence – would even consider “flipping” could indicate an important shift in his legal team’s strategy. Manafort was convicted last month in Virginia of bank fraud and tax evasion. A mistrial was declared on 10 other counts, and prosecutors have dropped their prosecution.
But while the details of the negotiations aren’t publicly known, reports that Manafort would even consider flipping could rattle the Trump administration.
Earlier this summer, Kevin M. Downing, an attorney for Manafort, said there was “no chance” his client would flip and cooperate with prosecutors.
However, Manafort’s current willingness to engage in talks could rattle Trump, who in the past has praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.
Opening statements in Manafort’s second trial, which will take place in a Washington court, are set to begin Sept. 24. He is facing charges of failing to register as a foreign lobbyist. The charges brought against Manafort stem from behavior that occurred before he joined the Trump campaign, and are primarily tied to his lobbying work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
In other news, Courthouse News reported late Tuesday that prosecutors have secured testimony from a former Manafort lawyer, who could be called to testify against his one-time client during the trial. Manafort’s team is pushing to have the witness barred.
The testimony of a lawyer who handled Manafort’s filings could be pivotal to the government’s case, but Manafort wants the evidence barred from trial.
Attorney-client privilege typically shields attorneys from having to disclose what their clients tell them in confidence, but there are some exceptions to the privilege rule, including when an investigative subject lies to his attorney, after which the attorney inadvertently passes those lies on to the government.
U.S. Chief District Judge Beryl Howell ruled in October last year that the crime-fraud exception applies since Manafort “likely violated federal law by making, or conspiring to make materially false statements and misleading omissions” on Foreign Agent Registration Act submissions and that the attorney could be compelled to answer seven specific questions.
The lawyer is not named in the government’s court filings, but prosecutors identified Akin Gump attorney Melissa Laurenza in an exhibit filed late last month in their bid to access some of the attorney’s communications with Manafort.
Of course, Manafort should take some comfort in the president’s praise, as well as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s assurances that Trump wouldn’t pardon Manafort or any of his other former political allies ‘until the Mueller probe is over’. That would appear to be a significant hint to Manafort that he can count on being pardoned if he steps up and eats the charges. But, then again, it’s hardly a guarantee. And Manafort, who has been sitting in a jail cell since his bail was revoked in June, likely doesn’t want to risk spending the rest of his life behind bars to protect a man who fired him after six months.