Friday morning marked a landmark moment for Donald Trump, when his 2016 campaign chief Paul Manafort not only entered guilty pleas to a pair of serious conspiracy charges, as Inquisitr reported, but agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government in an effort to tip the election in his favor. In fact, prosecutors said, Manafort had already begun giving information to the investigators, who are led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
While Trump himself, as of Friday evening, had yet to react publicly to the Manafort deal with Mueller, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying that Manafort’s cooperation agreement was “totally unrelated” to Trump, according to The Hill.
But legal experts who weighed in on various media outlets on Friday sharply disagreed with Sanders’ claim, with one — John Dean, the former White House Counsel in the Richard Nixon administration and Watergate scandal figure — declaring on Twitter that “nightmares at the White House will be unending,” and that “the entire Trump family” now faced legal jeopardy.
Even Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been one of Trump’s most staunch defenders in the Russia probe in numerous media appearances, conceded on Friday that Mueller’s deal securing Manafort’s cooperation was “a big win” and “big get” for the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, adding, “Potentially it opens up lots of doors that probably haven’t been open before,” according to an NBC News report.
“Those doors could lead directly to Trump’s deepest secrets,” wrote NBC’s national security correspondent, Ken Dilanian.
“Manafort’s decision to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation could represent a watershed moment for the Trump presidency,” Andy Wright, founding editor of the legal blog Just Security, told Vox. Wright added that Manafort not only served as Trump’s campaign chief through much of 2016, he was also a resident of Trump Tower and has been a Trump associate for decades.
“(Trump), like the rest of us, will have to wait to see how damaging Manafort’s cooperation will be,” Wright said. “But he will do so knowing what of his skeletons, if any, are there to be uncovered.”
Manafort was in attendance at the now-infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting between himself, Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a group of Russians led by a Kremlin-linked lawyer, as Inquisitr has covered.
“Mysteries around that meeting abound. They include whether then-candidate Trump knew about the meeting in advance and why Mr. Trump announced after the meeting had been scheduled that he would soon be giving a major speech on ‘the things that have taken place with the Clintons,'” wrote Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke, and Norm Eisen of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a New York Times op-ed on Friday. “Now that Mr. Manafort is cooperating, we may soon have answers.”
But what Manafort knows about the Trump Tower Russian meeting may be only “the tip of the iceberg,” according to Vox’s international security expert Alex Ward.
“Manafort also had close contact with two Russians during the campaign: Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik. Deripaska, a notorious Russian oligarch, was once Manafort’s client. And Kilimnik was formerly Manafort’s longtime business associate — and possibly has ties to Russian intelligence,” Ward wrote.
Manafort’s guilty plea and cooperation deal with Mueller likely closes the door on the possibility that Trump will issue a pardon for Manafort, former justice department official Matt Miller said, because even if Trump were to pardon Manafort, the former campaign chief has likely answered many of Mueller’s questions already and could still be legally forced to testify against Trump, Miller told CNBC.
“If the president were to pardon him now and allow him to walk free tomorrow, Bob Mueller already knows the answers to those questions,” Miller said.