Breaking: Manafort pleads out in second trial; Update: 10-year cap?

Word of a potential plea deal began leaking out late yesterday, and this time the leaks proved true. Special counsel Robert Mueller filed a superseding indictment against Paul Manafort in federal court today in conjunction with a plea deal, in which Donald Trump’s former campaign manager will avoid a second trial. No word yet on what Mueller gets from the deal, but at the very least, Manafort gets to save money on defense attorneys in what looked like a lost cause:

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, has agreed with federal prosecutors to plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, court filings Friday show.

A superseding criminal information against Manafort, 69, was filed Friday in the District of Columbia, which alleges a conspiracy against the United States (money laundering, tax fraud, failing to file Foreign Bank Account Reports, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and lying and misrepresenting to the Department of Justice) and a conspiracy to obstruct justice (witness tampering).

News that Manafort and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office were nearing a deal was first reported by ABC News, and later confirmed by The New York TimesReuters and Fox News.

The new indictment drops five of the remaining felony charges, leaving just two for the conviction — conspiracy against the US and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the latter related to the witness tampering allegation that cost Manafort his bail. Manafort still faces a potentially long sentence if convicted, but he’s already facing a stiff sentence from his earlier conviction, one that would put the 69-year-old behind bars for most of what remains of his life anyway. It’s all but certain that any additional sentence would have run concurrently rather than consecutively, meaning that Mueller wasn’t going to get much more out of the spending of cash either.

So everyone saves money, which is good enough reason to settle this before trial. But did Mueller get something more significant in return than a savings for his budget? NBC’s anchors wondered the same thing, asking rhetorically, “What does this mean for President Trump?” Has Manafort flipped?

Answer: no one really knows, at least not yet. If Manafort was going to cooperate at all, one would think that he would have done so before getting convicted in his first trial while he could still negotiate for his freedom. Besides, Manafort was campaign manager for Trump for only a relatively short period of time. Despite the year-plus of Manafort’s arrests, indictments, and prosecutions, nothing Mueller ever alleged had anything to do with the campaign — and except for the obstruction charges, only related to Manafort’s activities from 2014 and before. There may be nothing to trade, and Mueller might have finally realized that Manafort was a dry hole for his investigation.

If that’s the case, then Mueller probably won’t have much more to do, other than chase down some other tangential issues with Roger Stone and gripe about Trump’s obstructive tendencies. However, if Manafort has decided to cooperate with Mueller in regard to Trump and has something worthwhile to trade, then … the White House had better batten down the hatches for more than just Hurricane Florence.

Update: ABC notes that Manafort has conceded on asset forfeiture in the new charging document. Is that all Mueller got in exchange? The White House had better hope so.

Update: Politico’s source suggests that Manafort didn’t get much from the deal either:

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty in a foreign-lobbying and money laundering case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The plea deal calls for a 10-year cap on how long Manafort will be sent to prison, and for Manafort to serve time from his separate Virginia and Washington cases concurrently, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

He’s 69 years old. A ten-year sentence has a pretty good chance of being a life sentence. It seems doubtful that either judge would have demanded that Manafort serve his sentences consecutively for what is essentially the same set of crimes.

Update: Politico and the Washington Post both report that there’s no indication yet that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with Mueller as a condition of the plea deal. It’s tough to see how this deal would reward him much for cooperation; this looks much more like both sides have tired of the fight and are settling in the gap to put it behind them.