Special counsel Robert Mueller is accusing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of violating the plea deal he agreed to earlier this year by repeatedly lying to prosecutors and FBI agents during recent debriefing sessions.
In a report filed with a federal judge Monday evening, Mueller’s office alleged that Manafort “committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters.“ Prosecutors said the alleged lies leave Manafort exposed to the possibility of a more severe prison sentence under federal guidelines, but they did not elaborate on what exactly he allegedly lied about.
Story Continued Below
Manafort’s defense team said: “He believes he has provided truthful information“ and tried to “live up to his cooperation obligations.“
Manafort faced two prosecutions by Mueller’s office: one in Virginia charging him with tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report overseas bank accounts, and another in Washington charging him with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukraine, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
In August, a federal court jury in Alexandria, Va., convicted the former Trump campaign chairman on eight felony counts and deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction on 10 others.
The next month, Manafort entered into a plea deal with prosecutors that headed off a looming trial in the Washington case and limited his maximum prison sentence on those charges to 10 years.
The ultimate significance of the breakdown between Manafort’s team and Mueller’s office is hard to assess and may be limited. The 69-year-old lobbyist and international political consultant has been in custody since June and was already facing the possibility of a decade or more in prison. His convictions by jury in the Virginia case and by guilty plea in the D.C. case are nearly certain to stand despite the disagreement over his cooperation.
One lawyer closely following the case said the development was an ominous one for Manafort.
“Very significant for Manafort in a bad way,” said Shan Wu, a Washington defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. “Could really destroy his chance at a lighter sentence,” added Wu, a former lawyer for Manafort’s co-defendant Rick Gates.
While prosecutors claim in the new filing Monday that Manafort committed new crimes by lying to the FBI, Mueller’s team stopped short of saying that it intended to actually seek new charges. Instead, prosecutors appear intent on urging the judges to impose stiffer sentences than they might have otherwise.
The falling-out also appears to scuttle the possibility that Mueller’s office might file special motions that could dramatically reduce Manafort’s prison time, even after the sentences are imposed. Prosecutors have the option to submit such requests when defendants provide “substantial assistance” to an ongoing investigation or prosecution.
The disagreement also presents another opportunity for Mueller’s prosecutors to air some of the evidence in their possession, including details about alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Demonstrating to the judges that Manafort lied may entail laying out more of that case than has surfaced thus far.
While Manafort faces the theoretical possibility of up to 80 years in the Alexandria case and 10 years in the D.C. one, federal judges typically sentence defendants in accordance with sentencing guidelines that usually call for terms well short of the maximum. Prosecutors warned in Monday’s filing that they would no longer agree to a provision in the plea deal that credited Manafort for “acceptance of responsibility.”
It’s possible Manafort’s latest run-in with Mueller’s team will hearten some in President Donald Trump’s camp, although it comes after numerous cooperation sessions in which Manafort faced questions on a wide array of topics, at least some of which may be unknown to Trump and his attorneys.
The president retains the power to wipe out any federal prison sentences Manafort may receive in the pending cases, although it’s possible he could face state charges related to some of the crimes he admitted to. Prosecutors have already seized numerous properties from Manafort, including his Trump Tower apartment. Those seizures can’t be reversed through Trump’s pardon powers, lawyers say.
Before and after the plea deal in September, Manafort’s legal team was repeatedly spotted at Mueller’s nondescript office in Southwest Washington. Manafort himself, who has been jailed at an Alexandria detention center, was driven into an underground garage for the meetings with prosecutors.
Prior to Monday’s filing, there was no outward indication that Mueller’s team was dissatisfied with Manafort’s cooperation. Both sides appeared in federal court in Alexandria on Oct. 19, with prosecutors making no mention that Manafort was defying any of the provisions.
Earlier this month, however, ABC News reported that tensions between Mueller’s team and Manafort’s defense were rising over the former Trump campaign official’s level of cooperation.
About a week later, prosecutors and defense attorneys asked a judge for a 10-day extension of a deadline to suggest next steps for sentencing in the D.C. case. That’s the report that was submitted Monday.
The defense and prosecution did agree on one thing: They are ready for U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to set a sentencing date in the D.C. case. Manafort’s sentencing in the Virginia case is already set for Feb. 8 before U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III.
Published at Tue, 27 Nov 2018 00:08:23 +0000