Days before in-person jury selection is set to begin in his second trial, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in talks with the special counsel’s office about a possible plea deal, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
But the discussions indicate a possible shift in strategy for Manafort, who earlier this year chose to go to trial in Virginia, only to be convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on eight counts of bank and tax fraud. He had derided his former business partner, Rick Gates, for striking a deal with prosecutors that provided him leniency in exchange for testimony against Manafort.
“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort said in February.
The specifics of Manafort’s current negotiations with prosecutors were unclear, including whether he would provide any information about the president.
Earlier this summer, Kevin M. Downing, an attorney for Manafort, said there was “no chance” his client would flip and cooperate with prosecutors.
However, Manafort’s current willingness to engage in talks could rattle Trump, who in the past has praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.
Prosecutors “applied tremendous pressure on him and . . . he refused to ‘break’ - make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’ ” the president tweeted last month. “Such respect for a brave man!”
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni and Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment. Manafort’s attorneys, Downing and Thomas E. Zehnle, did not immediately return calls for comment.
Jury selection for Manafort’s second trial is set to begin Monday, with opening statements scheduled for Sept. 24.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson pushed back a scheduled pretrial hearing in the case from Wednesday to Friday. Court filings did not indicate the reason for the delay.
Manafort, 69, a longtime lobbyist and consultant with deep roots in the GOP, served as Trump’s campaign chairman for about six months, resigning in August 2016 amid increasing scrutiny of his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
Both cases brought against Manafort stem from his work in Ukraine. The jury in Virginia found that Manafort hid the money he made in Ukraine to avoid paying taxes and then lied to get loans when the political party collapsed and his funding dried up. In Washington, he faces charges of conspiring against the United States, money laundering, failing to register as a lobbyist, making false statements and witness tampering.
Manafort had the choice to consolidate both cases into one but declined. He had been jailed since June as a result of the witness tampering charges.
He has yet to be sentenced in Virginia, where he faces up to 10 years in prison under federal guidelines on the eight of 18 counts on which he was convicted. A mistrial was declared on the remaining charges after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.
Trump has sought advice from his lawyers on the possibility of pardoning Manafort and other aides accused of crimes, his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani previously told The Washington Post, and was counseled against pardoning anyone involved in the ongoing probe. The president agreed to wait at least until the investigation concludes, Giuliani has said.
Several defendants have cooperated or pleaded guilty in connection with the special counsel probe, including Gates; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who worked with Gates and Manafort; W. Samuel Patten, who admitted arranging for a Ukrainian businessman to illegally donate to Trump’s inauguration; and former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail last week after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.
The decision by Trump’s onetime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last month in a federal investigation in Manhattan particularly angered the president, who denounced him as a “flipper.”
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.