President Trump’s lead lawyer said Monday that attorneys for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have reiterated that the president has nothing to fear from Manafort’s cooperation with federal investigators.
Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said that Manafort’s legal team assured him as recently as Saturday — the day after Manafort struck a plea deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — that he has no information that will incriminate the president or his family, including eldest son Donald Trump Jr.
Giuliani said he also thinks that Manafort has no evidence to suggest the Trump campaign colluded with Russians.
“We’ve talked to their side,” Giuliani said. “The statement is, there is nothing that is adverse to the president, the Trump family, the Trump campaign.”
Giuliani declined to name who provided the assurances, but two people briefed on the discussions said Manafort attorney Kevin Downing has been in contact with Trump’s lawyers.
Downing did not respond to a request for comment. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined to comment.
Manafort had been in a long-standing joint defense agreement with Trump and other witnesses in the special counsel investigation. Plea deals such as the one he struck Friday typically sever such agreements. Lawyers on both sides are still free to communicate, with some restrictions, but their discussions are no longer shielded from scrutiny by prosecutors.
Legal experts expressed skepticism that Manafort, who has pledged his full cooperation with prosecutors, could be confident that he does not have information that could assist Mueller’s investigation of Trump. The special counsel has been examining contacts between Trump aides and Russians, as well as whether the president sought to obstruct the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.
“No one can know whether what Manafort knows could be harmful,” said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who specializes in legal ethics. “It is not credible that his lawyers would make this representation now.”
Trump has asked his lawyers for their advice in the past about a pardon for Manafort, along with other aides accused of wrongdoing. Last month, Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone during the investigation into Russian interference, saying that Trump should at least wait until Mueller completes his inquiry.
On Friday, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct justice, a dramatic reversal that was viewed as an ominous development for Trump and his allies.
As a cooperating witness, Manafort is now required to share all he knows with Mueller.
Manafort had a front-row seat to key events being scrutinized by the special counsel — including a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting during which Trump Jr. expected to get “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — and took part in private discussions in the spring and summer of the campaign.
Attorneys for Trump and other witnesses familiar with Manafort’s account are confident that his testimony will not contradict their statements, according to people familiar with their discussions.
Giuliani said Monday that he and fellow Trump attorney Jay Sekulow have had ongoing conversations with Manafort’s legal team that date back to before his trial earlier this summer in Virginia.
“They’ve been going on constantly — way back to well before the first trial,” Giuliani said.
Still, some Trump advisers worry that Mueller would not have agreed to a deal with Manafort unless the longtime lobbyist had information that would be valuable to his investigation.
Some allies of the president think Manafort’s knowledge about influential Russian figures and pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders could help Mueller describe Russian efforts to penetrate the Trump campaign or illegally interfere in the election.
“For them to give him a cooperation deal, he has to have something pretty good,” said one person involved in the case who requested anonymity to speak about the ongoing investigation. “So what is that? You have to give something pretty interesting to get this deal.”