Paul Manafort’s plea agreement is a monstrously one-sided deal in favor of the government.
That’s what experts who talked to Roll Call unanimously concluded after taking a few hours to digest the former Trump campaign chairman’s decision to reach a bargain with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution team.
Manafort agreed as part of his plea deal Friday to “cooperate fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” with Mueller’s team and other law enforcement officials. In exchange, the government will request that judges in Virginia and Washington, D.C., hand him a sentence no longer than 10 years in prison for the 20 counts on which he has either pleaded or been found guilty.
A jury in Eastern Virginia found the former political consulting titan guilty on eight counts related to tax evasion and loan fraud last month but remained hung on 10 other counts. Manafort pleaded guilty to those remaining 10 counts Friday as part of his plea agreement.
Here are three takeaways from the deal and what Manafort’s cooperation with the special counsel means for his sentencing, the Mueller investigation, and a potential pardon from the president.
1. This was not a “win for both sides” — Mueller’s team won
No matter how you look at it, this deal has to be seen as a massive victory for Mueller and his special counsel team.
The only concession the special counsel made was to repackage the charges against Manafort in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia from seven counts to two and to ask judges for a shorter sentence.
Besides that, prosecutors extracted a guilty plea, a cooperation agreement from Manafort to tell them everything he knows and fork over any documents they request, an admission of guilt to the 10 remaining charges from the Eastern Virginia trial, and likely a multiyear prison sentence for Manafort.
“The government has gotten everything that it could possibly want,” one former top U.S. Justice Department Criminal Division attorney said.
The language of the plea agreement is “really one-sided,” she said.
For example, the government did not specify how much of a reduction it will seek on Manafort’s sentencing if he follows through on his cooperation agreement.
“There’s no limit on what they can request,” the former DOJ attorney said. They can ask for a 25 percent departure from the sentencing guidelines. They can ask for a 75 percent departure. It’s entirely up to Mueller and his team based on the value of the information they receive from Manafort.
Mueller’s team could also pull out of the agreement at any time if they feel Manafort is not fully cooperating. That’s boilerplate for most plea agreements.
What’s extraordinary about this plea agreement, though, is the lack of protections Manafort has if that scenario were to play out.
The breach clause of the plea deal is remarkably bare, and the government has retained the right to use anything Manafort says in his cooperation meetings against him if prosecutors decide to pull out of the agreement and try him.
“Usually, there would be some protection that if the government believes that the agreement was breached, that they can’t use the statements that were made to the government during the period of cooperation with that person,” the former prosecutor who spoke to Roll Call said. “The defendant’s lawyers would usually try to put some protections in there against that.”
“But here,” she said, “there’s none.”