Special counsel’s office prosecutors are weighing additional charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for allegedly lying to investigators after pleading guilty to federal crimes, and a federal judge on Friday ordered them to disclose the basis of that accusation next week.
Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson at a hearing in Washington, D.C., that the special counsel’s office had not yet decided exactly how to handle what it said was a breach of Manafort’s plea agreement by lying and was weighing options that might increase the sentence he will ultimately receive.
“With respect to whether there will be additional charges, we have not made that determination yet,” Weissmann said.
What precisely Manafort is accused of lying about remains unclear. Jackson directed the government to file by Dec. 7 a document backing up its assertion.
Friday’s hearing was the first in Manafort’s case since special counsel prosecutors accused him Monday of repeatedly lying to investigators and breaking his plea agreement. Manafort, 69, denied being intentionally untruthful, but his defense attorneys and prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III both asked the judge to immediately set a sentencing date in a blockbuster joint filing late Monday.
Manafort’s plea in D.C. would cap his sentence at 10 years in prison, though that could come in addition to his punishment for separate convictions in Virginia on tax and bank fraud charges. The charges there carry a possible maximum penalty of 85 years, though federal sentencing guidelines would probably call for a term somewhere between seven and 10 years, legal analysts have said.
Prosecutors said they would have to consider whether charging Manafort with additional crimes is worthwhile, given that he already faces more than a decade behind bars and they could note his alleged lies during the sentencing process.
Kevin Downing, Manafort’s defense attorney, told Jackson there were “a lot of unknowns for us, but we do think it’s going to take some time to respond to whatever it is they’re going to file with respect to the breach agreement.” Jackson set a tentative sentencing date of March 5, to permit probation officials to begin preparing a presentencing report .
Manafort would have time to respond to the government’s filing, Jackson said, and she would set a hearing date over any disputes after the new year, if necessary. The judge will ultimately decide whether Manafort breached the agreement.
The lawyers did not discuss the substance of prosecutors’ allegations against Manafort, and there was some dispute over how much Manafort’s team had been told. Early in the hearing, Downing said he was not sure how long it would take to respond to prosecutors’ allegations, “not knowing the details of what constitutes the breach.” Weissmann said they had “lengthy discussions” on the issue.
Outside the courthouse, Downing again claimed Manafort’s team did not know the details of what Manafort was accused of lying about. “We look forward to litigating this in court,” he said. He did not respond when asked why Weissmann said they had discussed the facts of the dispute before this week’s filing.
Manafort, who is jailed in Alexandria, waived his right to appear in court and was not there Friday.
Under a plea agreement in September, Manafort pledged to tell the government about “his participation in and knowledge of all criminal activities,” in exchange for prosecutors’ recommendation of leniency after he admitted cheating the Internal Revenue Service, violating foreign-lobbying laws and attempting to obstruct justice.
In the joint filing this week, prosecutors alleged Manafort breached his agreement, committing “federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters” in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. They did not elaborate but said they would detail “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” in a future sentencing document. They added that Manafort’s actions relieved the government of any obligation to seek less prison time.
Manafort denied lying or violating the deal.
Given their deadlock, the two sides jointly asked Jackson to set a sentencing date and schedule any other motions, which led to Friday’s hearing.
The plea agreement states if prosecutors show in good faith that Manafort breached its terms, he may not seek to withdraw his guilty plea.
The agreement in the case in the District also states that if Manafort violated the deal, he could face prosecution for crimes to which he did not plead guilty and that all his statements could be used against him by other parties, including state prosecutors, in criminal or civil proceedings.
If Manafort is found to have broken the deal, he would lose any sentencing credits for acceptance of responsibility, prosecutors said.
Evidence of other crimes could also subject Manafort to an increase in his sentence for convictions in Virginia for tax and bank fraud. His sentencing in that case is set for Feb. 8 before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III.
Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and served as its chairman into August, making him a top campaign official present during discussions of events at the heart of Mueller’s inquiry to determine if any Americans conspired with Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
The terms of Manafort’s cooperation were laid out in a 17-page agreement entered Sept. 14 in Washington when he pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by hiding years of income and undisclosed lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party and politician in Ukraine. He also pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice by attempting to tamper with witnesses in the case.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.