Former Trump aide Manafort close to plea deal with Mueller

Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is nearing a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors to avoid a second criminal trial

Background


Paul Manafort is a political consultant and lobbyist who joined the Trump Presidential campaign in March 2016. In August 2016, reports noted that Manafort had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. It was also alleged that he may have illegally received $12.7 million off the books. He left the campaign shortly thereafter.

In May 2017, the Department of Justice appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller to head the investigation against the Russian collusion in the presidential election. Therefore, Mueller has taken over the existing criminal probe on Manafort. In August 2015, it was reported that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigations.

Analysis

It remains unclear if the deal will include Manafort cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. 

A move by Manafort to cooperate could be a blow to Trump, while an outright guilty plea with no cooperation would resolve a cloud over the president ahead of congressional elections in less than two months.

Manafort was convicted in Virginia on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts in the first trial that ended last month. Prosecutors said he evaded taxes on $16 million laundered through shell companies overseas.

Manafort is already facing 8 to 10 years in prison from the eight guilty counts in Virginia, terms that may not change significantly no matter the outcome of the second trial.

Manafort worked for five months on Trump’s 2016 campaign, including three as chairman. He resigned in August 2016 following a news report linking him to covert payments from a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine.

A second trial could delve deeper into Manafort’s Russian connections including to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian-Russian political consultant who was indicted along with Manafort and who Mueller’s team has linked to Russian intelligence.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Manafort will take the plea deal and divulge more information on the Kremlin operative who contacted him during the campaign. Mueller’s pace in conducting the investigation is a dire threat to Trump’s legitimacy as the President of the United States. If Manafort is indicted, then his links to the Trump campaign will further be scrutinized. If Manafort had been wiretapped during a period when he was still speaking to the President, then those conversations could further spell doom for Trump’s Presidency.