So far, Manafort is the only American charged by Mueller who has chosen to go to trial rather than cooperate, and he’s already facing years in prison as a result of his conviction in Alexandria, Virginia, last month. He’s preparing for yet another trial in Washington, D.C., next week on multiple charges, including failure to register as a foreign agent, witness tampering, and money laundering.
His agreement with Trump wouldn’t prevent him from seeking a plea deal in that case, or even flipping on the president in exchange for a lighter sentence, legal experts told me—it would simply limit what he could say about Trump’s legal strategy. Manafort is still resisting pressure to help federal prosecutors, according to ABC News, and is angling for a deal that would lessen his sentence but not require him to turn on Trump. That’s not an uncommon request, Honig said, but a good prosecutor would reject it. “Federal cooperation, with very narrow exceptions, is not selective,” he said. “Generally, it’s all or nothing.”
Manafort may be looking beyond a plea deal, however, to a full pardon from Trump (or, even further down the road, to a commutation). Honig was skeptical that Trump’s lawyers would use the agreement to dangle a pardon in exchange for Manafort’s silence: Doing so could constitute obstruction of justice, and therefore be subject to the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. “They have to be somewhat guarded, because they know Manafort, or anyone else in a joint-defense agreement, could choose to flip at any time,” Honig said.
Even so, Cotter noted, the agreement provides Manafort a valuable channel into Trumpworld, one that could help him angle for a pardon if that’s what he’s looking for. In the end, “that’s not a bad roll of the dice,” Cramer said. “As we’ve seen from Trump’s past pardons, Manafort won’t need to wait on career prosecutors or the [White House’s] pardon office to make a recommendation. It’s really just about waiting on the president’s whim.”
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