Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has reportedly struck a deal with prosecutors to avoid a lengthy and likely damaging trial. Facing Judge Amy Berman Jackson, Manafort pleaded guilty to federal charges and agreed, as part of his plea, to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation.
Is this the smoking gun moment that the media and the left have been desperately hoping for? Or is it merely a tactical move by Manafort and Mueller that allows them both some breathing space?
Details of the Deal
Manafort copped his plea for two charges: one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice by witness tampering. The conspiracy against the United States charge will likely be the most misunderstood by those willing to believe the narrative against the Trump adinistration. While many may assume that this is an admission of guilt in working with Russia and the Trump campaign, in reality, it covers his foreign lobbying efforts as well as tax and bank fraud charges that the jury could not unanimously complete in his previous trial.
The deal will cost Manafort several bank accounts and properties; he will, however, retain his properties in Virginia and Florida, suggesting that this deal was struck to protect his family’s well-being. Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, said after the trial that his client “accepted responsibility” and that he “wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”
Manafort’s plea agreement states that he faces a maximum of over 21 years in federal prison. That’s the longest term contemplated under the sentencing guidelines, which judges rarely deviate from without compelling reason. Judge Berman Jackson has said that these sentences could be reduced based on the amount and value of cooperation. It appears clear that the purpose of the agreement is to induce and foster Manafort’s “cooperation.”
The End of Trump?
The question on everyone’s mind is, of course, how will this impact Trump or the presidency. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is: very little. The conspiracy against the U.S. charge covers financial crimes that took place well before Manafort had any dealings with the Trump campaign, the witness tampering charge is Manafort’s alone, and relates to his attempts to mitigate trial damage whilst actively under investigation. Neither have anything to do with Donald Trump.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t danger ahead.
The key here is that Manafort has agreed to “full cooperation,” which is a legal sword of Damocles with which to coerce. Despite the salivating by the president’s opponents, Trump’s inner-circle is already downplaying the result. Rudy Giuliani released a statement almost immediately, saying:
“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign … The reason: the president did nothing wrong.”
Quite what information the Mueller investigation will glean from Manafort now that he has decided to cooperate is something both the prosecution and defense teams are keeping close to their chests. Yet one thing remains perfectly clear: This will NOT be resolved prior to the midterm elections in November.
Lawfare is being played out in the courts with the aim of creating suspicion, paranoia, and pressure. When there are more questions than answers, the only winner is the one asking the questions.