All eyes are on special counsel Robert Mueller Friday, as he’s set to make two new court filings related to the Russia investigation, which will likely reveal new information about what’s been going on behind the scenes with the secretive probe. But how much more?
First off, Mueller is set to explain why he thinks Paul Manafort breached his cooperation agreement — and what, specifically, he allegedly lied about.
Last week, the special counsel made the surprising claim that Manafort — who had struck a plea deal requiring his cooperation with the government in September — had breached the agreement by “lying” about “a variety of subject matters.”
Mueller promised then he would “file a detailed sentencing submission” explaining “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies.” That’s what he’s set to do Friday.
Second, Mueller is expected to assess the value of Michael Cohen’s cooperation with the probe in a separate court filing. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is also expected to submit a sentencing memo for Cohen, who pleaded guilty to financial crimes in August and to lying to Congress just last week. (He will be sentenced on Wednesday of next week).
The Cohen pre-sentencing filings must be handed, in hard copy form, to a New York judge by 5 pm Eastern time (and will likely be uploaded electronically around then). The deadline for the Manafort filing is midnight.
Keep in mind that both of these filings could feature significant redactions, as with a sentencing memo Mueller’s team filed for Michael Flynn this week. But even in redacted form, the Flynn filing did reveal a fair amount — and the new Manafort filing in particular will likely reveal much more.
What does Mueller think Manafort lied about? And how can he prove it?
Back in September, Paul Manafort agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The deal averted an imminent second trial for Manafort (he’d already been convicted of financial crimes at a first one) and required Manafort’s cooperation in the ongoing probe.
The news was widely viewed as a likely turning point in Mueller’s investigation. It seemed that Mueller had been trying to get Manafort to “flip” for quite a while, and had finally achieved his aim — landing him a cooperator close to the president himself. And Manafort subsequently traveled to the special counsel’s office for questioning at least nine times.
But the deal fell apart because, Mueller claims, Manafort lied to them. A lot.
“After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement,” Mueller’s team wrote in a filing last week. (Manafort’s lawyers disputed this assertion and wrote that Manafort “believes he has provided truthful information.”)
So what are the topics the special counsel thinks Mueller lied to him about? Last week, Aruna Viswanatha and Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal reported on two topics of these purported lies: Manafort’s business dealings, and his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik (a longtime business associate who the special counsel has said is tied to Russian intelligence).
There have also been reports that Mueller questioned Manafort about topics at the heart of his Russia collusion probe. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the New York Times that prosecutors were pressing Manafort on whether Trump knew about his son Don Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower. And ABC News reported Mueller was asking Manafort questions about Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser (and Manafort business partner) who’s been under the special counsel’s scrutiny for months.
Another possibility is Julian Assange. The New York Times’s Ken Vogel and Nicholas Casey reported that Manafort met Ecuador’s president-elect to talk about a deal to bring the WikiLeaks founder to the US. (Assange has resided in Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012.) Mueller has reportedly been looking into this meeting.
There’s also the question of what evidence Mueller has — and is willing to reveal — to back up his claim Manafort lied. We’ll get a better sense soon. A spokesperson for Mueller told Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff that the Manafort filing “will be public” — though that some parts of it could end up being redacted, as in the Flynn sentencing memo.
How useful has Michael Cohen been to Mueller?
Michael Cohen certainly hopes his sentencing submissions will make a dramatic contrast to Manafort’s.
For months now, the former Trump lawyer’s team has been hyping up the value of his cooperation to the press. “Good for @michaelcohen212 in providing critical information to the #muellerinvestigation without a cooperation agreement,” his legal crisis manager Lanny Davis tweeted in September.
When news broke last week that Cohen and Mueller struck a plea deal, ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos reported that Cohen had given “dozens of hours of testimony potentially damaging” to President Trump, and that the special counsel “values” his testimony. (His sourcing for this claim appeared to be from the Cohen camp.)
Cohen’s legal team filed their own sentencing memo last week, asking Judge William Pauley for no prison time. In it, they revealed that Cohen had “participated in seven voluntary meetings” with Mueller’s office. He also met twice with the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) about a separate investigation, and with the New York state attorney general’s office about another probe and about their lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Still, we haven’t yet heard from investigators just how helpful they think Cohen’s cooperation has been. That’s what we’re likely to get a sense of on Friday. SDNY is handling the main sentencing memo for Cohen, but Mueller’s office is expected to file a separate letter to Judge Pauley on the topic.
These will likely look similar to Mueller’s sentencing memo for Michael Flynn. That is, they’ll include an assessment of Cohen’s cooperation, and perhaps some details. But since Cohen’s assistance is about investigations that are still ongoing, it’s unlikely they’ll reveal too much about just what he’s provided and whom it might implicate.
Cohen’s sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday of next week. Manafort has two different sentencing dates, in February next year (for his Virginia convictions) and in the following month (for his Washington, DC plea deal).