Court filing: Manafort lied after guilty plea

Paul Manafort has "breached" his plea agreement with the Justice Department by lying to the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller's office two months after he started to cooperate in the Russia probe, prosecutors alleged.

Posted: Nov 27, 2018 11:24 PM
Updated: Nov 27, 2018 11:47 PM

Special counsel Robert Mueller informed a federal judge on Monday that Paul Manafort's cooperation deal has imploded because of Manafort's seemingly congenital inability to tell the truth.

On the surface, Manafort's failed cooperation appears to be a setback for Mueller and a bullet dodged for President Donald Trump and administration insiders. But Mueller's ability to see through Manafort's lies and rip up the cooperation agreement bespeaks a deeper strength. By Monday's court filing, Mueller effectively declared: I have enough evidence to know Manafort is lying to protect others, and I don't need his half-baked cooperation to prove my case against them.

As a federal prosecutor, I dealt with dozens of cooperators, including gun and drug traffickers, corrupt public officials, mafia leaders and murderers. I spent countless hours interviewing (or "proffering," in the lingo) potential cooperators and assessing whether they were being honest and forthcoming.

Federal cooperation is an all-or-nothing proposition; the cooperator must tell the prosecutor everything he knows about any crime that he or anybody else has committed. There are no half-measures. The cooperator cannot withhold incriminating information about certain people he wishes to protect. This selectivity is the most common cause of failed cooperation, and it appears to be Manafort's undoing here.

Whatever the particular reason for the breakdown, there is no avoiding the conclusion that, had Manafort cooperated fully and truthfully, he likely could have done serious damage to high-ranking administration and campaign officials, including potentially Trump himself. Manafort spent five months as Trump's campaign chair, and he attended inner-circle meetings, including the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower sit-down between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a group of Russians who were said to have offered to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign.

Had Manafort come clean, as required by his cooperation agreement, he could have walked Mueller into the inner sanctum of the Trump campaign during the key months leading up to the 2016 election, during which Russian intelligence agents hacked and disseminated the emails of Hillary Clinton and the DNC in an effort to undermine Clinton and help Trump's campaign. Doubtless, some within the Trump administration breathed sighs of relief when they learned that Manafort's cooperation had tanked.

At the same time, the very fact that Mueller saw through Manafort's lies -- and appears ready to prove to Manafort's sentencing judge that Manafort lied -- is a subtle but powerful show of strength.

When a prosecutor pulls the plug on a cooperator because that cooperator lies, it typically happens not merely because the prosecutor senses in his gut that the cooperator is lying. More often, the prosecutor knows for a fact that the cooperator is lying because the prosecutor has hard evidence to prove the truth of the matter.

Here, we know Mueller has the goods on whatever Manafort lied about -- and whoever Manafort felt a need to protect -- because he told the judge that he "will file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant's crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement." Translation: Manafort lied, I know it, and I'll prove it at his sentencing if necessary. That should cause serious concern to whoever Manafort sought to protect by lying to federal prosecutors during his proffers.

As for Manafort himself, Anderson Cooper said it best: How frickin' stupid is this guy? Manafort, now 69 years old, already faced a sentence likely to keep him behind bars for most or all of his remaining life following his August trial conviction on eight crimes, including bank fraud and tax evasion. Manafort then pleaded guilty to additional crimes under a cooperation agreement, which provided him with one potential out: If he cooperated successfully, he could earn a "5K letter" from Mueller detailing Manafort's cooperation. (A 5K letter -- named after the relevant provision of the federal sentencing guidelines, section 5K1.1 -- is a letter from the prosecutor informing the judge of the details of the defendant's cooperation.)

I've written many 5K letters, and I know that they can result in drastically reduced sentences. Now, however, Manafort has the worst of all worlds. He has been convicted at trial, he has pleaded guilty to additional crimes, he has broken his own cooperation agreement by lying federal prosecutors, and he has no chance at a 5K letter. Manafort paddled far upstream and now he has thrown his oar into the rapids.

So, why then would Manafort endanger himself by lying to Mueller? I see two possible explanations. One, perhaps Manafort is simply an arrogant, congenital liar. The trial evidence proved that Manafort believed he could spin a web of lies and get away with them. He got caught lying to banks and the IRS, and now, unsurprisingly, he has been caught by Mueller. Some cooperators understand that they are best served by telling the truth, for better or worse; others play games with prosecutors and end up getting burned.

Two, Manafort may be playing for a longshot pardon or commutation from Trump. It already has been reported, before Manafort's trial conviction and cooperation plea, that Trump at least discussed the possibility of pardoning Manafort.

Perhaps Manafort has determined on his own that his best chance to earn a pardon is to walk away from Mueller (though it is unclear why Manafort would curry favor with Trump by cooperating with Mueller and then lying; Manafort could have sent the same message of loyalty by refusing to cooperate at all in the first place). Or it is possible -- unproven at this point, but possible, given the chain of events -- that word somehow got to Manafort that, if he scuttled his cooperation with Mueller, he would be rewarded with a pardon. If that happened, then anybody who put the word out, or helped get it to Manafort, would face potential charges for obstruction of justice.

The failure of Manafort's cooperation at first glance seems like a setback for Mueller. But the fact that Mueller was able to call out Manafort's lies suggests he has plenty of evidence in hand to go after whoever Manafort sought to protect.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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