Here's How the Trial Against Paul Manafort Could Be Critical in a Russia Collusion Case Against Trump

As the trial of Paul Manfort proceeds, special counsel Robert Mueller's case that the former campaign chair for President Donald Trump committed bank and tax fraud appears strong.

But a pressing question hangs over the entire trial: What does any of this have to do with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election, which Mueller was initially directed to investigate? Though Mueller is permitted to pursue any criminal matters that he comes across in the course of his investigation, he's been willing in other instances to hand off parts of the case to other prosecutors when they are not central to his mission.

Joyce Vance, a law professor at the University of Alabama, explained on MSNBC Friday that Manafort may yet prove himself to be a key figure in a potential case of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to interfere in the election.

"Manafort could be far more central to collusion between the campaign and Russia than the bank fraud and tax fraud prosecution case he's going through currently would suggest," Vance said on "Deadline: White House."

"In other words, Mueller could have indicted the leading edge, perhaps to convince Manafort to cooperate with him down the road," she said. "But Manafort might still offer a great deal of help for Mueller, for instance, discussing the history of financial back-and-forth between Trump and Russia. He can talk, of course, about that important June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower where the campaign met with Russia. He can talk about meetings in the Seychelles. He may even be able to shed some light on this change in the Republican Party platform as it regarded Ukraine. So he could be very central on the topic of collusion."

She added:

It looks as though both on the tax fraud side and also the bank fraud side of this investigation, he gets convicted. And then Trump has to be worried about what happens next. Does Manafort stay true, hoping he might get a pardon? Or does he reach a point where he decides it's in his best interests — and his family's' best interests — for him to offer some form of cooperation to Mueller. And then, John, there's still an even more attenuated situation here, which is that if Manafort is convicted, even if he doesn't want to cooperate with Mueller, Mueller could then compel his testimony... because he no longer has criminal exposure.

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