The Winners and Losers Of The Manafort Plea Bargain

Below is my column in The Hill on the Manafort plea agreement, which continued to release an unrestrained joy and ecstasy among commentators, who (yet again) predicted the imminent demise of Donald Trump. Norman Eisen, who served as White House Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform in the Obama administration, predicted that President Trump wouldn’t “survive” Manafort’s testimony.  That is of course without knowing if Manafort has anything damaging on Trump.  This appears an example of hope over experience in light of prior predictions of imminent indictments and resignations.  Manafort may have damaging information or he may not. There are however some clear winners and losers in the Manafort plea that are not based on pure speculation.

Here is the column:

Paul Manafort’s plea bargain with special counsel Robert Mueller is the latest harbinger of disaster for the Trump administration, according to various media reports. Salon described it as nothing short of a hurricane landing in Washington, while Democratic strategist and MSNBC contributor Scott Dworkin predicted President Trump would resign within two weeks of the plea. Others, like Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, declared that “this is a big gain because he (Mueller) gets access to somebody.”

In any plea deal the operative language should be “caveat emptor” — buyer beware. Many pundits declared the plea bargain of former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos to be a disaster for Trump; Huffington Post said it “establishes conclusively that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian representatives.” Moreover, it declared that the decision to seek zero to six months of prison time was cited as proof that Papadopoulos would deliver the coup de grace to Trump since the Mueller team was unlikely to “hold out the possibility of no jail time without getting something valuable in return.”

A week ago, Papadopoulos fizzled out, and the special counsel sought the six-month maximum allowed by the deal; Papadopoulos received a mere 14 days in jail. Caveat emptor.

The Manafort deal may be a “big deal” or it may not. We have no idea of any “deliverables” offered by Trump’s former presidential campaign manager after his “queen for the day” disclosures to Mueller.  It is likely that Manafort would have pleaded guilty even if he had not reached a deal. He never presented a cognizable defense in Virginia and reportedly came within one juror of losing on every count, rather than just the eight convicted counts — and that was the easier of his two scheduled trials. The D.C. trial had twice the evidence and a parade of horribles of alleged criminal conduct.

Manafort was not known to be a close confidant of Trump’s and served as campaign chairman only for a couple of months. Trump’s personal exposure could be far more limited with Manafort than it is with someone like his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Nevertheless, there is an array of clear winners and losers from this deal.

The losers

Paul Manafort: Whatever this deal brings him, it will not be what he most wants or needs — a walkaway deal. He already is a convicted felon and just pleaded guilty to an impressive array of criminal conduct in open court. While specifically pleading to only two counts, Mueller had Manafort admit to a broad narrative of underlying criminal acts of fraud and obstruction. Even with cooperation, Manafort could face ten years (with five year maximum sentencing in D.C. plus the convictions from Virginia).  At age 69, even a 10 year sentence would put him at roughly 80 years old, if he survives. Prosecutors have alleged that he owes at least $15 million in taxes. He must hand over a brownstone in Brooklyn (estimated value: $4 million), his Trump Tower condo ($3 million), another condo in lower Manhattan ($3.2 million), a house in the Hamptons ($7.3 million), and a house in Arlington, Va. ($1.7 million). He must turn over three bank accounts and a life insurance policy; by signing over the policy, his family will not even financially benefit from his demise. It is assumed there is enough left to allow his family to continue to live in the top one percent — though his daughter Jessica, an aspiring filmmaker, is taking her mother’s maiden name, Bond, to break the association with her father.

Beltway Bandits and Powerhouses: The Manafort plea is most dangerous for an array of Washington power-brokers implicated in the very same underlying conduct. This includes former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, who failed to register as a foreign agent, and his former firm, the powerhouse law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which could face charges. Then there is the work Democratic super-lobbyist Tony Podesta — brother of Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager, John Podesta —

who worked with Manafort for the same pro-Russian interests. And there is Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying shop run by former Congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.). The firms of both Podesta and Weber are referenced in the indictment. Already criticized for focusing on alleged crimes by Trump rather than Clinton, the Justice Department will be under considerable pressure to show equal vigor in pursuing some of these Beltway bandits.

Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.: A cooperating Manafort is more of a threat, not to Trump (who has not given statements to investigators), but to son-in-law Jared Kusher and son Donald Jr. If Manafort contradicts their accounts of the Trump Tower meeting or its aftermath, Mueller could bring false statement charges against them, which he has used as his primary prosecutorial device. President Trump could then act impulsively but self-destructively by firing Mueller and taking other steps that could be cited for impeachment or even later indictment. This is why the targets of opportunity for Mueller are Kushner and Trump Jr.

The winners

Robert Mueller: When it comes to prosecutions there is strength in numbers, and Mueller now has an even larger stable of potential witnesses. Moreover, Manafort’s plea gives Mueller another major victory only weeks before some believe Trump could move against either the investigation or Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections. Polls show that the public supports Mueller’s investigation, and the Manafort deal would make any move following the midterms look more like raw obstruction.

Donald Trump: Strangely, Trump could be both a winner and a loser in this deal. While the potential damage is still speculative, a real benefit is the cancellation of an embarrassing trial playing out in the days leading to the midterm elections. The D.C. trial was going to highlight the sleazy world of Manafort and his work on behalf of pro-Russian interests. The plea puts Manafort and his deals into a sealed criminal investigatory process at a time when Republicans are struggling to retain the Senate — a vital protection for Trump if he does face impeachment.

Of course, this does not mean Manafort could not prove damaging to Trump, but it is less likely to be a direct (as opposed to an indirect) attack. Trump faces a Venn diagram threat as these various witnesses form circles of potentially overlapping accounts. It is the overlapping circles that should most concern the Trump team. As shown in the Virginia Manafort trial, a single cooperating witness like Rick Gates can be destroyed before a jury. It is far, far more difficult to get a jury to disregard multiple witnesses. For Trump, the danger is if multiple Mueller witnesses lock in accounts on any given crime.

Trump’s greatest threat, however, could be from the pressure now mounting on collateral figures like his son and son-in-law. Mueller is again metastasizing within Trump’s inner circle … and there are markedly fewer and fewer people in that circle.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

36 thoughts on “The Winners and Losers Of The Manafort Plea Bargain”

  1. You comments on Kavanaugh are sadly wrong. All they have to ask this woman is who paid for you to come forward and lie? Or do you know Hillary Clinton? Or do you know Johnathan Turley? Or do you know any FBI agents or DOJ agents. Or any Democrats on the panel like Corey Booker? You have not idea how this will back fire right in the Democrats face!

  2. here’s what else: none of the charges had to do with the Trump election, all prior stuff

    so likely a lot of peripherals coming in the way of a “cooperation”

    sometimes the cooperating witnesses sing like a bird and sometimes they fizzle. Turley’s point is sound that we wont know until we do

  3. “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination,” Kavanaugh said.

    That’s when it was clear that he was a liar because there was no way that he had any data to support such a ridiculous assertion. Not to mention that the president doesn’t read briefing reports and likes connect the dots summaries.

  4. Someone please explain this obsession with Manafort. Is it because the mugshot is so much fun to post?

    1. It’s because they have absolutely nothing on Trump being a traitor despite openly accusing him of being one for the past two years. They’ve been living in a world that doesn’t exist. The come down will be very painful. For now, they grasp at Manafort…believing that he will lead them to their holy grail: Trump’s impeachment and indictment.

      I must add that we who support Trump are also chasing our very own holy grail: the revelation that there was a conspiracy to illegally exonerate Hillary and illegally target Trump as a candidate and then as President. As the chief executive, Trump has all the cards because he can declassify anything on his own say so. He must disregard the worries about revealing “sources and methods” and declassify everything related to the investigation into his campaign. His failure to do so thus far has been a huge mistake.

      We are in a deadly serious crisis.

    2. Zorro Zorro Nevada said, “Someone please explain this obsession with Manafort.”

      The criminal information that the OSC provided for Manafort’s plea deal effectively demonstrates, amongst other things, Manafort’s expertise at planting fake news in both The European and The American media–especially the alternative right media exemplified by Breitbart [i.e. Bannon]. Rumor has it that there was a great deal of fake news deployed in the alternative media during the 2016 election. In the case of the smear campaign against Yulia Tymoshenko in The Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich and The Party of Regions provided the funding for Manafort’s fake news operations. In the case of the 2016 US election, it may be the case that Oleg Deripaska or almost any number of other Russian oligarchs may have provided the funding for the Trump campaign’s fake news operations. Or not.

      But if the Trump campaign was running a fake news operation in 2016, then Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and possibly even Don McGahn would have been just the people to get that job done. And then the question would become exactly who paid for that operation. Roger Stone once told Henry Greenberg, “You don’t understand Trump. He doesn’t pay for anything.” Meanwhile, Don McGahn was a Commissioner on the FEC for roughly five years from 2008 through 2013 as well as Trump campaign counsel in 2016. If there is a legal way to fund a fake news operation to influence a federal election, then McGahn would have been the Trump campaign’s resident expert on that question. And there’s still $50 million or so of Trump’s inaugural funds unaccounted for, not to mention an incomplete accounting for the $26 million of inaugural funds that went to Melania. Plus, another Manafort colleague, Sam Patten, pled guilty to laundering Russian oligarch money into Trump’s inaugural fund. Did I neglect to mention that Roger Stone says Trump doesn’t pay for anything? Well . . . Who paid whom to get Trump elected? They still say that bribery is an impeachable offense; don’t they?

      1. I meant Turley’s obsession with Manafort, as indicated by the reference to the constant posting of the mugshot.
        You are so freaking dense.

    1. The Russian hackers will never show up in court. Papadopoulos got 14 days. Manafort will be pardoned.

      All at the bargain basement price of $20 million taxpayer dollars.

        1. Wow! America is going to obtain a yuuuge windfall when it seizes Hillary’s assets at the Clinton Crime Family’s “Clinton Foundation” when the long arm of the law catches up with her.

          And as a corollary, as Andrew McCarthy said, “if Comey had indicted Hillary, Comey would have convicted Obama,” America will obtain a $65M windfall when it seizes Obama’s book advance.

              1. Sorry, I thought you were clever enough to read between the lines. I was speaking of the other guy.

  5. Public opinion shifts back and forth. This week should be the week we get the unredacted FISA warrants released on Page. We will get to see what the FISC saw and what the FBI and DOJ have been hiding for so long.

    Even if Manafort went after someone in the Trump family, he would be an unreliable witness since he is getting a huge break on his sentencing.

    1. At a minimum, Manafort forfeits at least $22 million to the government (which pays for the investigation to date). At a maximum, Manafort forfeits $46 million to the government (which will pay for the investigation yet to come). Seeing as how Mueller documented $60 million of ill-gotten gains from Manafort’s crimes, Manafort could end up with as little as $14 million left with which to pay the back taxes he owes on the whole $60 million. If, however, Manafort provides substantial cooperation, he could end up with as much as $38 million left with which to pay the back taxes he owes on the whole $60 million. That, in turn, could leave enough for Manafort’s lawyers to get paid. Either way, Manafort has already paid for Mueller’s shop. And there could be Trump Organization money and Trump’s personal and family money at risk in the next round of indictments.

      1. L4Yoga enables David Benson, R. Lien and Marky Mark Mark – all that property is sold at auction. It goes to the highest bidder, cash or cashier’s check in hand. The government will get pennies on the dollar. BTW, government auctions are a great place to pick up stuff cheap.

        1. Every penny on a million dollars is ten thousand dollars. Ten pennies on each of a million dollars is one-hundred thousand dollars. If the government gets thirty cents on each dollar that Manafort forfeits, then the government will clear three-hundred thousand dollars for every million dollars that Manafort forfeits. Thus $22 million would yield 6.6 million. And $46 million would yield $13.8 million. If an ostrich-skin jacket cost $1,500 and you buy it at auction for thirty cents on a dollar you pay $450 for it. I’m pretty sure that the government can do better than that. But I’m not an expert like you.

          1. L4Yoga enables David Benson, R. Lien and Marky Mark Mark – I have been to the federal courthouse in Phoenix when they have the auctions. Fascinating. You should take one in. They are educational.

            1. Oily crepe! Manafort’s ostrich skin jacket cost $15,000. The ostrich skin vest cost $9,500. And he has an $18,500 jacket made from python skin. So, at thirty cents on a dollar, you’d pay $4,500 for the ostrich skin jacket, $2,850 for the vest and $5,550 for the python skin jacket.

              I’ll stick with the flea market and garage sales.

      2. Tony Podesta and his group are also very much at risk.

        But what happens if it is deemed that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was politically motivated? If Comey, Yates, McCabe, Rosenstein, Strock, Page, Ohr, etc. end up pleading guilty to various crimes then everything that resulted from Crossfire Hurricane could be vacated by the courts because it is “fruit of the poisonous tree.” That means Manafort could actually get his money back and could then sue for damages.

        This story has a long ways to go.

  6. “This appears an example of hope over experience in light of prior predictions of imminent indictments and resignations.” Yes, indictments/convictions against Manafort had nothing to do with Trump, so a more reasonable assumption is that Manafort will cooperate in connection with those specific crimes he has been convicted of (not Trump-Russia collusion).

  7. There he goes again. “We don’t know” Turley says. That’s true. It’s also true that we’re not supposed to know–yet. And here’s why not. Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd spilled the beans to Bob Woodward that there were at one time 37 people in a Joint Defense Agreement with Trump. That number is likely to be a bit lower by now what with all the plea deals going on. But there have to be at least 30 people left in Trump’s JDA. And most of those are people who have been interviewed by the OSC before the Manafort plea deal. And some of them are people who testified before the grand jury before the Manafort plea deal. So at least one of the things that Manafort could offer Mueller is information contrary to answers given in interviews with OSC by members of Trump’s JDA and grand jury testimony contrary to previous grand jury testimony from members of Trump’s JDA. Surely those members of Trump’s JDA have to be wondering whether Manafort is going to contradict them. But they would know that for sure until Mueller brings new indictments. And that might be too late for members of Trump’s JDA to revise their previous answers and correct the record on their grand jury testimony.

    So. Don’t be surprised, Professor, if the remaining members of Trump’s JDA and their lawyers pull out that JDA and make a bee-line straight to Mueller’s shop to revise their answers and correct the record before Mueller brings any new indictments.

    Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock . . . whimper.

  8. Turley has a key fact and the assumption that follows wrong. Manafort has known Trump for years and this, in tandem with their constant conspiring together is attested to by his daughter. Just a little bit of research would have disabused him of such a basic error. Those who have been following this case more carefully know about Manafort’s danger to Trump both in terms of policy changes to favour Russian diktats and the shared pecuniary interests. Norm Eisen has a far greater knowledge of what is going on here.

  9. Jonathan Turley still has it wrong. Mueller suggested 30 days for Papadopoulos. The judge indeed picked 14 days.

    1. Yup. When the OSC said in its sentencing memo on Papadopoulos that he had not provided substantial cooperation, what that really meant is that Mueller’s shop is seriously considering adding Papadopoulos to the case-in-chief as an indicted co-conspirator. Plus, they still have a tampering with evidence case against Papadopoulos. And Papadopoulos may have committed an overt act in furtherance of the Conspiracy to Defraud the United States when George probably passed what may have been a Trump-approved message to Putin through the Greek Foreign Minister that, in turn, may have led to Aras Agalarov requesting Natalia Veselnitskaya to attend the Trump Tower meeting. Or not.

      Giuliani says Mueller can’t make any overt investigatory actions until November 7th, 2018. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock . . . whimper.

    2. Benson,

      Ben Franklin, we gave you “…a (restricted-vote) republic, if you can keep it.”

      “I just asked 4 freshmen…”

      “Now Washington state has quite a decent public school system and WSU students come from the upper ranks of their graduating classes.”

      – David B. Benson

      So, Benson, you are a parasitic public worker living off of the public dole? Who’d a thunk? Help me out here.
      Can you pay taxes with taxes? Is it possible for workers paid with collected tax dollars to pay taxes with the tax dollars they just received? Can one pay taxes with taxes? So you don’t actually pay taxes, right?

      Should a public worker who is paid by elected officials be allowed to vote for those elected officials?

      Now you understand why the American Founders gave Americans a “…republic, if you can keep it,” Ben Franklin.

      A republic is not one man, one vote democracy; it is representative governance “…in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote.”

      The American Founders intended for criteria to be met by voters.

      I doubt being on the public dole is a criterion.

      Merriam Webster


      b (1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law

  10. Explain why if one person says one thing and another person another version why they always take the side of the convicted felon and against the other. with no other proofs, facts etc. except some kinda of twisted logic subjective reasoning of two seconds duration.

    Meuller is trying to save his own neck and those of this professional group of dirty cops. He wouldn’t last two seconds under the same set of rules.

    1. Corroboration by means of documentary evidence including communications records both of which Mueller’s shop has amassed to the tune of beaucoup boatloads.

      P. S. Don’t forget about all of those Trump Transition Team documents. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock tick tock . . . whimper.

  11. The “Losers”: Americans who respect law, order and the right to speak freely. The “Winners”: big business, the military industrial complex, bad people in Afghanistan, and fake news. Spell the guys name right, and by that I mean how it was posited at Ellis Island when the grandpa came over: Manafart. There is an “a” in there. Not to say that he stinks or anything. But: A fart is a fart, he’s a fart all the way. From his first drink of tea to his last dying day!

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