Judge Delays Start of Second Manafort Trial Following Word That Trump's Campaign Chair Is Seeking a Deal
Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts last week in a trial on bank fraud and tax evasion. Manafort was supposed to be facing a second trial in a D.C. court starting next week, but that trial has been delayed, with jury selection now scheduled to start on September 17 and the trial on September 24.
The delay follows on the heels of reports that Manafort had been seeking a plea deal in this second trial. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Manafort’s legal team had approached the prosecution about a potential deal. This would not have been an agreement to cooperate but, like the deal just made by Trump attorney Michael Cohen, would have been a simple agreement to plead guilty in exchange for a recommendation of a reduced sentence.
Indications are that previous attempts at a deal fell through, but the discussion between Manafort’s team and that of special counsel Robert Mueller supposedly took place before a Virginia jury returned with eight guilty counts. It may be that, following that decision, Manafort is in no hurry to stack more years on his current sentence.
And Manafort may feel that at this stage he could still walk away with light punishment. Judge Ellis, who oversaw Manafort’s Virginia case, previously handed down a sentence of only seven months to a man who pleaded guilty to stashing $220 million in foreign accounts and shorting his tax bill by $18 million. Both amounts are greater than those involved in Manafort’s case. That defendant did plead guilty and had previously agreed to a fine, but Manafort may be convinced that, at worst, he’s looking at high single digits when it comes to his sentence. Manafort will not be sentenced in the case until Robert Mueller determines whether or not to retry the Republican insider on 10 counts that were held up by a single juror.
The second trial will focus heavily on Manafort’s activities in Ukraine and the work he did for Russia both in putting a Russia-supported government in charge and helping to foment discontent against NATO and the United States. With more an 1,500 exhibits already submitted, it may be that Mueller is simply unwilling to accept a deal that leaves Manafort with anything less than a heavy sentence. Or it could be that Mueller feels that there is evidence to be introduced at this trial which may play into some further action.
Manafort still has the option of simply changing his plea to guilty on all counts without a deal. But since this trial involves multiple charges of foreign lobbying, lying to the FBI, and still more money laundering, that decision might be one that sees Manafort spending a very long time in federal prison … or depending on the “kindness” of Donald Trump.
If word has reached Manafort that Trump intends to pardon him, then an across-the-board guilty plea could be the express lane to going home. It would not only see Manafort walking free, it would solve the issue of having too many dangerous facts concerning his dealings with Russian oligarchs exposed in open court.
In fact, Manafort may have determined that his only chance of being free to wear his ostrich vest again in this lifetime is to plead guilty on all counts before the federal court, take his lumps, and wait for Trump. That might allow him to both avoid decades in jail and unfortunate encounters with polonium.
However, there’s a more prosaic explanation for the delay. U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson indicated she was providing more time partially out of concern for the jurors. Considering the threats that were directed at Judge Ellis during the first trial, and comments concerning Ellis’ decision not to sequester the jury despite those threats, Judge Jackson may simply want time to plan additional precautions.