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Why are Manafort’s and Trump’s lawyers in touch while he cooperates?

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Reuters

  • Justice Department veterans are flummoxed that lawyers
    representing Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President
    Donald Trump’s campaign, are still in touch with Trump’s lawyers
    following Manafort’s guilty plea.
  • “It is absolutely not normal for a convicted felon and now
    cooperator to continue to loop in a potential target’s attorneys
    on the relationship with the prosecutor,” said one former DOJ
    career attorney.
  • There is no official guideline that bars lawyers for two
    sides from communicating with one another, but such
    communications could severely undermine or even tank a
    cooperation deal entirely.
  • The special counsel Robert Mueller revealed on Monday that
    Manafort breached his plea deal by lying to investigators.
    Manafort’s team maintains that he did not lie, and a source with
    direct knowledge of the matter told INSIDER his plea deal with
    Mueller remains intact.
  • By staying in touch with Trump’s team while cooperating,
    experts say Manafort could be trying to keep all his options
    open, including angling for a potential presidential pardon.

As Paul Manafort’s name winds up back in the headlines this week,
DOJ veterans say there’s one big question they want an answer to:
why is Manafort’s legal team still communicating with lawyers
representing President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation?

Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign, pleaded
guilty in September to conspiracy and obstruction and has since
been cooperating with the special counsel. But on Monday,
Mueller’s office said in a new court filing that Manafort had
breached his plea deal by lying to investigators.

Prosecutors said “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and
lies, including those after signing the plea agreement,” freed
them of any obligation from the plea agreement.

Trump’s lead defense lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed as much
when he told CNN on Tuesday that
Manafort’s lawyers told him they’re running into trouble with
Mueller.

“We discuss things that are appropriate,” Giuliani said. “They’re
[Manafort’s team] in control of it. I have no idea what else
they’re questioning them about. I don’t want to know.”

Read more: Paul
Manafort’s plea agreement with the feds is in jeopardy as Mueller
accuses him of lying to investigators

Giuliani told INSIDER earlier this year that Manafort was in a
joint defense agreement with Trump. But when a defendant flips
and agrees to a plea deal, it requires that they pull out of any
joint defense agreements they’re party to.

“It is absolutely not normal for a convicted felon and now
cooperator to continue to loop in a potential target’s attorneys
on the relationship with the prosecutor,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a
longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ.

“I doubt many prosecutors have had defendants who burn up the
phone lines talking to an opposing counsel who may end up
cross-examining him some day,” he added.


NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 08: Robert S. Mueller III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks at the International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) on August 8, 2013 in New York City. The ICCS, which is co-hosted by Fordham University and the FBI, is held every 18 months; more than 25 countries are represented at this year's conference. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Andrew
Burton/Getty Images


‘A pardon is still the holy grail for Manafort’

Things between Manafort and Mueller have been shaky for a while.
Earlier this month, ABC News reported that talks between the two
sides had broken down.

Since pleading guilty, Manafort had met with prosecutors nearly a
dozen times, and though members of Mueller’s team have been
asking him about a wide range of topics, they’re “not getting
what they want,” a source with knowledge of the discussions told
ABC News.

The dispute between the two sides reportedly stemmed from
suspicions that Manafort was not being entirely forthcoming about
all the information he may know that’s relevant to the Russia
investigation.

A source with direct knowledge of the matter told INSIDER on
Tuesday that Manafort’s plea deal with Mueller is still intact.

There is no technical or legal guideline that bars an attorney
for one target of a criminal investigation from communicating
with lawyers representing another target, whether or not a joint
defense agreement exists.

But such communications could severely undermine or even tank a
cooperation agreement entirely if lawyers for one side revealed
too much information to lawyers on the other side.


Paul ManafortREUTERS/Yuri
Gripas

“If as a prosecutor I was dealing with Manafort’s attorneys, I’d
have made clear from day one that any communication with Trump’s
attorneys, or other attorneys for other subjects, would
jeopardize the cooperation,” Elie Honig, a former prosecutor from
the Southern District of New York who specialized in
organized-crime cases, told INSIDER.

Manafort’s guilty plea came after a lengthy court battle during
which his lawyers put up an aggressive defense against Mueller by
challenging his authority and arguing that he had overstepped the
scope of his mandate when he charged Manafort with crimes
unrelated to Russian collusion.

Legal experts said at the time that Manafort’s refusal to flip
could have been part of an effort to angle for a presidential
pardon. His lawyers’ unusual decision to stay in touch with
Trump’s team even after pleading guilty may point to the same
strategy.

Read more: Trump
rips Mueller for ‘ruining lives’ of people ‘refusing to lie’
after Jerome Corsi says he will reject Mueller’s plea
offer

“It does seem that Manafort is trying to keep all his options
open for as long as possible,” Cramer said. “He is a career
fraudster so he is consistent if nothing else. He was easily
convicted and then decided to cooperate rather than go through
another trial and more prison time being added to his
sentence.”

“But a pardon is still the holy grail for Manafort,” he
added.

Trump, for his part, appears to grow more heated with
Mueller and the Russia probe everyday.

“The Phony Witch Hunt continues, but Mueller and his gang
of Angry Dems are only looking at one side, not the other,”
Trump tweeted on Tuesday
morning, shortly after Mueller revealed that Manafort had
breached his plea deal. “Wait until it comes out how horribly
& viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them
refusing to lie.”

“Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue,”
Trump added. “The Fake News Media
builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the
exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal
Justice System, where is is only looking at one side and not the
other.”

The president has alternated between defending and
distancing himself from Manafort. Giuliani told INSIDER earlier
this year that Trump would not consider whether or not to pardon
his former campaign chairman until after the Russia probe had
concluded.

But even if Trump pardons Manafort, it doesn’t mean he
would

be out of the woods.

“There are several state prosecutors out there who could
bring a strong case based upon already existing evidence [against
Manafort],” Cramer said. “And a state conviction of Manafort is
beyond the president’s pardon powers.”

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