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Paul Manafort Concludes Plea Deal

Sep 14, 2018
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will plead guilty to charges brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller. There is an arraignment and plea agreement hearing scheduled later this morning in federal court here in Washington, D.C. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is in studio to talk more with us. Ryan, Manafort, as I just noted, is due in court in just a short bit. What can you tell us at this point about the plea agreement?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the special counsel's office just announced this arraignment and plea agreement hearing today, just a couple of minutes ago. This comes a couple of days before Manafort was supposed to go on trial here in Washington. He faced seven charges in that case. Jury selection was supposed to begin on Monday. And then earlier this morning, Mueller's office filed what is known as criminal information. Now, that's something that Manafort must consent to.

There are two charges in this document. One is conspiracy against the United States. That's kind of an umbrella charge related to impeding, impairing lawful government actions, basically, what the government does. The second charge is conspiracy to obstruct justice. That relates to witness tampering. Prosecutors say that Manafort tried to get two witnesses in this case to provide false testimony to investigators. Both of these charges kind of relate to lobbying work that Manafort did on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian leader and political party from around 2006 to about 2015.

MARTIN: We should just remind listeners that this is separate, right? This is - Paul Manafort went on trial weeks ago, was convicted of eight counts of bank and tax fraud. This is a separate trial about these different charges.

LUCAS: That's correct. He was convicted on eight of 18 counts of bank and tax fraud by a jury of his peers in Virginia. And that verdict came down in August, so about a month ago.

MARTIN: So he fought those charges. This is different now. We're seeing him, we believe, to be making this plea deal with Robert Mueller and his team. Does that mean, implicitly, that he is cooperating with the Russia probe?

LUCAS: Well, we don't know at this point whether this plea requires him to cooperate with Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That's the key thing that we're going to be keeping an eye out for at this hearing and then also in the plea agreement when it's made public, when that - when those papers are. Now, at the hearing today, we're going to have a kind of dramatic moment. Manafort is going to have to stand up in court, at the podium, before the judge, before the public. And he will have to say out loud what crimes it is that he is pleading guilty to, what he did that was illegal. It's a dramatic moment here. You have the president's former campaign chairman doing this. And so this is no small thing in and of itself.

MARTIN: What does it mean in general, this plea for the Mueller investigation? Can we say anything at this point?

LUCAS: Well, this is further evidence, supporters will say. You know, you have the guilty plea of Michael Flynn, the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, the guilty plea of Rick Gates, the conviction of Manafort, now a guilty plea. That pushes back against the accusation that the president has made that this is all a witch hunt. Here you have another step forward in the criminal process against those individuals.

MARTIN: Of course, now we'll see whether or not Paul Manafort might be given a presidential pardon.

LUCAS: Right.

MARTIN: I guess that's in the offing. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.