Posted on: New York Times | November 27th, 2018
Author: Sharon LaFraniere

WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, repeatedly lied to federal investigators in breach of a plea agreement he signed two months ago, the special counsel’s office said in a court filing late on Monday.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve them of all promises they made to him in the plea agreement. But under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea.

Defense lawyers disagreed that Mr. Manafort had violated the deal. In the same filing, they said Mr. Manafort had met repeatedly with the special counsel’s office and “believes he has provided truthful information.”

But given the impasse between the two sides, they asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to set a sentencing date for Mr. Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement in a detention center in Alexandria, Va.

The 11th-hour development in Mr. Manafort’s case is a fresh sign of the special counsel’s aggressive approach in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone in the Trump campaign knew about or assisted Moscow’s effort.

Striking a plea deal with Mr. Manafort in September potentially gave prosecutors access to information that could prove useful to their investigation. But their filing on Monday, a rare step in a plea deal, suggested that they thought Mr. Manafort was withholding details that could be pertinent to the Russia inquiry or other cases.

The question of whether Mr. Trump might pardon Mr. Manafort for his crimes has loomed over his case since he was first indicted a year ago and has lingered as a possibility. A former lawyer for Mr. Trump broached the prospect of a pardon with one of Mr. Manafort’s lawyers last year, raising questions about whether he was trying to influence Mr. Manafort’s decision about whether to cooperate with investigators.

The filing Monday suggested that prosecutors do not consider Mr. Manafort a credible witness. Even if he has provided information that helps them develop criminal cases, by asserting that he repeatedly lied, they could hardly call him to testify.

Mr. Manafort had hoped that in agreeing to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s team, prosecutors would argue that he deserved a lighter punishment. He is expected to face at least a decade-long prison term for 10 felony counts including financial fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Instead, after at least a dozen sessions interrogating him, the special counsel’s prosecutors have not only decided Mr. Manafort does not deserve leniency, but they also could seek to refile other charges that they had agreed to dismiss as part of the plea deal.

The prosecutors did not describe what they said Mr. Manafort lied about, saying they would set forth “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” in an upcoming sentencing memo. The sentencing judge does not have to accept the prosecution’s account at face value, and Mr. Manafort’s lawyers are expected to vigorously contest it.

A jury in Northern Virginia convicted Mr. Manafort, 69, of eight counts of financial fraud in August stemming from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine. The jury deadlocked on 10 other charges.

Faced with a second trial in the District of Columbia on related charges in September, he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts and agreed to an open-ended arrangement requiring him to answer “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” questions about “any and all matters” of interest to the government.

It was unclear at that time how much Mr. Manafort had to offer prosecutors. Although he had arguably deeper ties to pro-Russian figures than anyone else connected with the Trump campaign, he had consistently said he had no information against the president. Legal experts suggested that if he had been able to significantly further Mr. Mueller’s inquiry, he could have negotiated a more favorable deal.

As it is, the plea agreement specifies that if prosecutors decide that Mr. Manafort has failed to cooperate fully or “given false, misleading or incomplete information or testimony,” they can prosecute him for crimes to which he did not plead guilty in the District of Columbia. They could also conceivably pursue the 10 charges on which the Virginia jury failed to reach a consensus. Mr. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in the Virginia case on Feb. 8.

Mr. Mueller’s investigators have charged a number of former aides to Mr. Trump with lying to them. Three former Trump campaign officials or advisers have pleaded guilty to misleading federal investigators: Michael T. Flynn, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, who reported to prison on Monday to serve his 14-day sentence. A Dutch lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, who had business dealings with Mr. Manafort, also pleaded guilty to lying to the special counsel’s office.

Most recently, Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and friend of the former Trump campaign aide Roger J. Stone Jr., said Mr. Mueller’s team is pressuring him to plead guilty to lying to them about his communications with Mr. Stone about WikiLeaks. Investigators are looking for links between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which distributed emails and other documents that Russian agents stole from Democratic computers before the 2016 election.

Mr. Corsi said on Monday that he refused the plea deal because he did not deliberately mislead investigators, but merely forgot about an email chain from two and a half years ago.

In his most recent criticism of the special counsel, Mr. Trump has suggested that prosecutors are frustrated because they cannot produce any evidence against his campaign. “The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” he wrote on Twitter recently.

“They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want,” he declared. “They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t care how many lives” they ruin.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers responded last week to questions Mr. Mueller had for the president about ties between his campaign and Russia. Among the questions were inquiries about what Mr. Trump knew about Russian offers to Mr. Manafort during the campaign to assist Mr. Trump’s presidential run. The president’s lawyers have declined to discuss what he told Mr. Mueller, and it is not clear whether any of his answers conflicted with what Mr. Manafort told investigators.

Mr. Manafort’s allies have hoped that his sessions with the special counsel would end soon so he could be sentenced and transferred to a federal prison, where conditions are comparatively better than in a local jail. At a recent court hearing in Alexandria, Mr. Manafort came into the courtroom in a wheelchair, his foot wrapped in a white bandage, possibly from an attack of gout.

But few of Mr. Manafort’s friends predicted that his sentencing would be hastened by prosecutors declaring him to be a liar. The development stunned some people close to the White House, as well as legal experts.

“Everybody who lies to Mueller gets called on it — so he had to know that Mueller would catch him. So the question is: What was he hiding that is worse than going to jail for the rest of your life?” said Joyce Vance, a professor of law at the University of Alabama law school and former federal prosecutor. “There are often rocky dealings with a cooperator, and Mueller didn’t cut bait at the first sign of trouble. It was likely more than one lie and this would not have been a minor detail — it had to be something material and significant and intentional.”

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