As It Happens

Paul Manafort could be fishing for presidential pardon, says former prosecutor

Former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah says special counsel Robert Mueller wouldn't have dropped Paul Manafort as a cooperator for just anything — so the alleged lies to the FBI must be serious.

Robert Mueller's team says former Trump campaign manager breached plea agreement by lying

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, left, has been accused of lying by Robert Mueller's team. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Image)
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A former federal prosecutor says special counsel Robert Mueller wouldn't have dropped Paul Manafort as a cooperator for just anything — so the alleged lies to the FBI must be serious. 

According to a court filing on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement by lying to the FBI and special counsel investigators.

Manafort had started co-operating with Mueller's prosecutors in September after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the United States — a charge that included a range of conduct from money laundering, to unregistered lobbying, and to attempting to tamper with witnesses.

Manafort denies that he lied to the FBI. A date will now be set for his sentencing. 

Mimi Rocah spoke with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner about this latest development in the Russia investigation. 

Here is part of that conversation. 

Just a couple of months ago, Paul Manafort reached the best possible deal he could with [Robert] Mueller. Why would Mr. Manafort risk losing the only lifeline he had?

Well, it's hard to know why people blow up these kind of deals, but, in my experience, there's a couple of different possibilities. 

The one here that I don't think is present in most cases is that he's hoping for some kind of a pardon ... from the president and he thinks that by sort of breaking out of this now maybe he's showing the president that he is not going to incriminate anybody.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is shown after a U.S. District Court appearance in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28. Robert Meuller's team says Manafort's plea agreement has been dropped after he lied to federal investigators and the FBI. (Yurk Gripas/Reuters)

Mueller's team uses some pretty tough language. It accuses Mr. Manafort of  "crimes and lies" in direct breach of the plea deal. As a ... former prosecutor can you tell us how big these "crimes and lies" would have to be before the deal would be breached?

So the government is not going to lightly decide that someone is in breach of a cooperation agreement. Cooperators are supposed to be truthful, but they don't have to be perfect.

And so the government doesn't ... tear up a cooperation agreement just because someone makes mistakes or forgets things. The government does that when someone deliberately lies and usually about something pretty material to the investigation.

I don't think Mueller and his team would accuse Manafort of this or go to this step if they couldn't really prove pretty definitively that these were lies because they will have to justify that likely to a court.

With the plea deal off, what is Paul Manafort facing now?

So he's facing decades in prison now ... whereas under the plea agreement the government agreed to basically ask for the sentences in the two cases to run concurrent.

They're now under no obligation to do that.

And he's possibly looking at additional time for crimes of lying or, at a minimum, the judge asking for some kind of enhancement to his sentence because of the lies.

What about for Mr. Muller, is this a blow to his efforts? This was supposed to be a key witness, a key collaborator. Has this hurt his investigation?

Wanting someone and needing someone as a cooperator are two different things, and we just don't know right now the extent of Mueller's other evidence pertaining to whatever crimes Manafort was going to be helpful in providing information about.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks out from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. According to a report in The Guardian, Manafort met with Assange in 2016 — months before DNC's emails hacked by Russia were published (Matt Dunham, File/Associated Press)

CBC has not corroborated this independently, but the Guardian is reporting that Paul Manafort met with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange several times over the years.

One of those meetings was [allegedly] in 2016 just before WikiLeaks published a trove of hacked documents from the DNC, the Democratic National Committee. It was also around the time that Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign.

Now Manafort has always denied having anything to do with that leak, but how significant is this report?

It's potentially very significant. If it's true, it's one of the first ... known direct communications between someone in the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which we now know through Mueller's other charges and filings was a direct conduit for the distribution of the hacked e-mails.

It sure sounds like there's a lot of things lining up that would indicate that those meetings between Manafort and WikiLeaks​ around that time had something to do with the hacking and the Russian conspiracy.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from CBC News. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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