Special Counsel Says Paul Manafort 'Breached' Plea Deal, Lied to FBI

Nov 26, 2018
Originally published on November 27, 2018 8:50 am

Lawyers working for special counsel Robert Mueller told a federal judge Monday that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had "breached the plea agreement" he reached with the government and that the judge should prepare to sentence him.

Government attorneys said Manafort committed new federal crimes "by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel's Office on a variety of subject matters." The special counsel team's court filing provided no details about the prevarication.

Manafort made a deal with federal authorities in September, a day before jury selection was scheduled to begin in Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges that spanned dozens of alleged crimes and more than a decade, through his time as an international lobbyist and his unpaid work on the Trump campaign in 2016. He also agreed to forfeit investment accounts and multiple properties, including a condominium in the Trump Tower in New York.

The terms of the deal called for Manafort to cooperate "fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly" with the investigation into Russian election interference and whether any Americans assisted in the Kremlin's attack on the 2016 presidential election.

For their part, Manafort's attorneys said he believes he has offered "useful information" and doesn't agree with the government assertion that he breached the plea agreement.

Manafort and his lawyers had been spotted meeting with investigators in the weeks after his plea deal. At his most recent court appearance, in Virginia, U.S. marshals wheeled him into court in a wheelchair. A person close to Manafort said he had a problem with his diet in the detention center in Alexandria, Va.

President Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, playing down Manafort's role in the campaign. But Manafort attended a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner that has become a focus of the special counsel probe. Manafort also played a major role at the Republican National Convention in 2016, when language regarding Ukraine was watered down in the party platform.

Earlier Monday, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos reported to a prison in Wisconsin to serve a 14-day sentence for lying to investigators.

Lawyers involved in the investigation have raised the prospect that Papadopoulos, Manafort and others who have been charged ultimately could receive presidential pardons.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is already in jail, may be in prison longer than planned. Last September, Manafort pled guilty to two reduced federal charges and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Well, now Robert Mueller is alleging that Manafort has been lying to his team, as well as to the FBI. And that would violate his plea deal. Let's bring in NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, what exactly is the special counsel saying about Manafort at this point?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Yeah, in a court filing last night, David, the special counsel said Manafort had committed new crimes by repeatedly lying to lawyers in the special counsel team and to the FBI in the course of his so-called cooperation. Remember. Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in September, just a day before the jury was supposed to be selected for his trial in Washington, D.C. And as part of that process, Manafort agreed to full, voluntary and truthful cooperation with prosecutors. They say he has breached that agreement, and they've had enough. And it's time for the judge to start the process of sentencing him - ultimately punishing Paul Manafort.

GREENE: So do Manafort's lawyers have any answer for these allegations?

JOHNSON: They say he's tried to live up to his part of the plea deal, that he's met numerous times with authorities in the last two months and that he does not believe he has not been truthful. This, they do agree with the special counsel team - it is time to start the machinery of sentencing going. They've asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to order a sentencing - presentencing investigation report. And that will move the ball forward probably into early 2019.

GREENE: So he could be in even more legal trouble than before this plea deal if we're talking about possible additional crimes here.

JOHNSON: Indeed. You know, Paul Manafort can't seem to stay out of trouble. Remember, David, that after he had already been indicted, they charged him again with alleged witness tampering. Now there's this. He could face much stiffer prison time because of his alleged lies to the special counsel and the FBI. And he won't get any benefit from this cooperation, which authorities say was not true cooperation anyway. In fact, the judge may take into account the panoply of other criminal conduct he admitted as part of this plea deal and be stiffer with him. Remember. Paul Manafort's 69 years old. He's had some health problems already in jail. And he's facing much more than ten years - could now be more like 20 years in prison.

GREENE: So a lot of what he was charged with had to do with his time and his dealings with Ukraine. But obviously as campaign chairman, he might have known a lot of what was happening inside the Trump campaign - or wasn't happening. So I guess one question is could the special counsel have lost an important witness potentially here in the whole Russia investigation?

JOHNSON: The short answer, David, is we don't know. Remember. Paul Manafort was around in 2016 for that Trump Tower meeting with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer. He also was around during the Republican National Convention when language in the party platform on Ukraine was watered down. He has a lot of things to say. He apparently was not saying them to authorities. And it's not clear how the special counsel is so confident that Paul Manafort has lied. Perhaps, they have some other secret information - still secret to us but not to them - that gives them a more full picture of what Russia did in 2016.

GREENE: OK, NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joining us this morning. Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.