Last week, the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) and Paul Manafort’s attorneys filed a joint status report in the DC federal court where Paul Manafort entered his plea agreement back in September. Joint Status Reports are how parties keep the judge posted on how the cooperation is going after a defendant flips. Manafort’s cooperation is going… not so great. Here’s how the SCO puts it:
After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement.
Now, “the agreement” is the plea deal: it’s a contract between the government and Manafort. In that plea deal, Manafort agreed to help with other investigations, and the SCO agreed to tell the judge that Manafort was so helpful that he should receive a lighter sentence.
It’s called a plea deal because, as part of this contract, Manafort pleaded guilty to somewhere between 17 and 22 years worth of federal felonies. Manafort’s stuck with those guilty pleas: the contract specifically says that if Manafort breaches the agreement, he still can’t withdraw his guilty pleas. Even worse for Manafort, the moment he breached the plea deal, the SCO was no longer under any obligation to ask the judge for a lighter sentence. (If I were a betting man, I’d wager the SCO will actually ask for a harsher sentence.)
Paulie and the situation
Okay, so it’s pretty bad for Paul Manafort right now. I’ll go into exactly how bad it is in a minute, but first let’s talk about what he did. Here’s the New York Times:
A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the president’s onetime campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.
The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.
Yeah, that’s bad. When you sign a plea deal, you’re supposed to help the feds, not your co-conspirators. That’s why flipping on your friends is such a big deal in all those mafia movies, Paulie. In addition, the SCO says Manafort’s been lying about a bunch of stuff, which is yet another crime.
So the next step for Manafort and the SCO is a court filing on Friday, in which the SCO lays out why Manafort has breached the plea agreement. According to the plea deal, the SCO has to show enough evidence that Manafort’s been lying to meet the “good faith” standard. That’s an exceedingly low bar: compare it to the much higher “preponderance of the evidence” standard, or “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard we all know from TV.
It’s not over until it’s over, though. Manafort’s lawyers can argue that only an idiot would sign a plea deal and then lie and snitch on the feds instead of his friends, and the off-the-record statements to the contrary in the Times don’t count. Why, only an idiot would openly con-
Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.
Oh. Oh, Rudy. You probably shouldn’t have said that.
Well, Manafort’s lawyers can at least try to argue that Manafort’s been telling the truth, but again, the SCO doesn’t have to prove he’s been lying. They just have to show good faith evidence that he’s been lying.
wait it gets worse
If the court finds Manafort in breach, he’s toast. Remember that “17 years of felonies” that I mentioned at the outset? Those are just the ones Manafort had to plead guilty to when he signed the plea deal; the SCO actually dropped some of the charges when Manafort agreed to cooperate. The SCO is free to re-charge Manafort for those and have another trial. And that’s just in the DC court. Remember, there’s that federal court in Virginia where the jury deadlocked on ten other charges. The SCO can bring those charges again, too. If Manafort was hoping to save time or money by pleading guilty, it didn’t work. He forfeited something like $46 million worth of assets when he pled guilty, so for his sake, I hope he’s got a few more million stashed away somewhere for his lawyers.
But, uh, the big takeaway here is that Paul Manafort is going to die in prison. There was a good chance that was going to happen before he signed the plea agreement; his first trial went pretty poorly and he’s 69 years old. Remember that Manafort’s been in prison since this summer when he engaged in witness tampering while out on bail. We’ll find out how long Manafort will spend in prison in February when he’s sentenced for the Virginia convictions. Then, in March, he’ll be sentenced for the ten felonies Manafort pleaded guilty to in DC. After that, who knows? We could have a second and third trial.
Even if Trump pardons Manafort, many of the federal felonies with which Manafort has been charged (money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy, etc.) have state equivalents. There’s no telling how many states’ attorneys general already have charges drawn up, waiting for this exact circumstance.
What about Mueller
As far as what happens next, nobody’s got a track record better than Marcy Wheeler. Here’s Wheeler earlier this week:
Mueller’s team appears to have no doubt that Manafort was lying to them. That means they didn’t really need his testimony, at all. It also means they had no need to keep secrets — they could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies.
Wheeler has a follow-up story with more predictions about the next possible shoes to drop:
Finally there’s any number of key disclosures involving Trump about which Trump — as well as Manafort — have already submitted sworn statements. The key one of these involves the Trump Tower meeting. Trump’s lackeys have already made it clear he denied knowledge of the meeting. […]
Given that Trump has made this clear, he must believe his answers match Manafort’s on this point. But if Mueller has solid evidence — perhaps in the form of both witnesses and communications — then revealing that would undercut all the President’s claims about this meeting. An even crazier possibility is if Mueller has found evidence — perhaps on those iPods I’m so obsessed about — that Manafort not only has proof to the contrary, but that Manafort was keeping records for his handler Kilimnik.
Boy, I’d love to see the return of those iPods.