Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman who was convicted of several felonies and cut a deal with prosecutors to avoid a second trial, has violated his plea agreement by lying to investigators, according to the special counsel’s office.
“After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the special counsel’s office on a variety of subject matters,” according to a new court filing submitted Monday evening.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the investigation into whether anyone from Trump’s team conspired with Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election, said the violation means there’s no reason to delay Manafort’s sentencing.
In August, Manafort was convicted in federal court in Virginia of bank fraud and tax evasion related to his work as a political consultant in Ukraine. He then pleaded guilty in September to two charges of conspiracy — one involving financial crimes, the other related to obstruction of justice by reaching out to a potential witness in his case — in federal court in Washington.
After the guilty plea, Manafort met regularly with prosecutors, sparking speculation about what he might be sharing.
The court filing does not say what Manafort allegedly lied about. The special counsel’s office promised to file a “detailed” document closer to the sentencing that “sets forth the nature of the defendant's crimes and lies.”
Manafort’s defense team said he had tried “to live up to cooperation obligations,” but they also agreed to move forward with sentencing. A date has not yet been scheduled.
The filing left unclear how the breakdown of talks between Manafort and the special counsel’s office might affect the rest of Mueller’s work. Since before Manafort’s plea, there have been persistent suggestions that Trump might pardon Manafort, something hinted at by the president's lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The breakdown of the plea agreement will likely mean a longer prison term for Manafort, 69, who will be sentenced without the benefit of a good word from prosecutors. He's already been in jail since June when a judge decided he had violated the terms of his bail. Manafort could end up spending the rest of his life in prison.
“This is a great example of how much power prosecutors wield over these cooperation agreements,” said Shanlon Wu, a defense attorney who previously represented Richard Gates, a former Manafort associate who was also charged by the special counsel’s office. Gates ended up cutting his own deal with prosecutors and testifying against Manafort.
“If you want their help of having a lighter sentence, you have to convince them that you're being truthful,” Wu said.
Trump has previously said Manafort was treated unfairly and compared him favorably to Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who has eagerly looked for opportunities to cooperate with prosecutors in order to reduce his own criminal liability.
There were signs this month that news could be coming in the case. On Nov. 15, prosecutors and defense attorneys asked a judge for more time to submit a status report, promising it would “be of greater assistance in the court's management of this matter.”
On Monday evening, the new filing made clear that whatever talks were taking place between the two sides were over.
The result could jeopardize whatever progress Mueller hoped to make by cutting a deal with Manafort. The special counsel will be unable to rely on him as a cooperating witness in any future trials and, after calling him a liar in court papers, might hesitate to use information provided by Manafort as key evidence.
On the other hand, Mueller used testimony from Gates in Manafort’s trial even after Gates pleaded guilty to lying. And Manafort may have provided the special counsel’s office with information that could be corroborated elsewhere, reducing the need to keep his cooperation.
“On balance, I think this is a much bigger blow to Manafort than the prosecution,” Wu said.
Mueller has meticulously pursued cases in which Trump associates have lied to investigators, often using such charges as leverage to convince them to cooperate with prosecutors. George Papadopolous, a former campaign foreign policy advisor, pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with a Maltese professor with Russian connections. He reported to prison on Monday to begin a 14-day sentence.
Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security advisor, pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. He agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office, and he’s scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Gates, Manafort’s former business partner who served as his deputy on the Trump campaign, also pleaded guilty to the same charge. Prosecutors said he lied about a lobbying meeting related to their work on behalf of Ukraine’s former president.