This post has been updated.
President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes at a hearing Friday morning, ending his long losing battle with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The planned plea, if accepted by a judge, would short-circuit his second trial scheduled to begin later this month in the District on charges of money laundering and lobbying violations. Manafort is expected to enter his guilty plea this morning in federal court.
It was not immediately clear if, as part of the plea deal with Mueller, Manafort would cooperate and provide any information to the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
It is not clear whether the special counsel will retry Manafort on charges from his first trial in Virginia on which the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. It is also unclear whether there are state charges that might be filed against Manafort. Trump has no power to pardon Manafort for convictions or pleas on state crimes.
The first count is for conspiring with Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political operative, to commit money laundering, failing to file as a foreign agent (of the Russian-backed Ukrainian president and his party) and lying to the Justice Department. This includes laundering more than $12 million obtained from his overseas work. During the time he ran the Trump campaign.
If Manafort pleads to this charge, as expected, he might be asked more detailed questions and might bring to light new information not in the charging document, just as Michael Cohen did when he pleaded guilty and declared under oath that Trump had directed him to violate campaign finance laws to hide hush money to alleged paramours.
We don’t know a great deal:
What cooperation will Manafort provide to Mueller?
If he does not cooperate, can he be called as an uncooperative witness and compelled to give further testimony?
Why were some charges eliminated in the reported deal? Will they be fodder for a state prosecutor if Trump tries to pardon Manafort?
Did anything Manafort do for his Ukrainian bosses intersect with anything he did for Trump (e.g., changing the party platform in a way that benefited Russia)?
To what degree, if any, was Trump or any family member aware of Manafort’s activities?
The benefit of a plea to Trump and the Republicans is that a trial filled with Russia references won’t be taking place weeks before the midterms. However, that is a short-term benefit that might be irrelevant at this point.
The huge downside is that a senior, the most senior, campaign adviser for a time is pleading to crimes directly tied to Russian interests while he was running the campaign. “Manafort is effectively admitting to being an instrument of the Kremlin — something that didn’t stop when he was in charge of the Trump campaign,” says Max Bergmann, who heads the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress. “This is what collusion looks like.”
And once again, it reveals that the president’s assurance that no one from the campaign had Russian contacts was flat-out false.