Lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump who was up until this week cooperating with a special counsel investigation looking into Russian meddling with U.S. elections, were purportedly discussing aspects of that investigation with White House lawyers, a report from the New York Times suggested this week.
What’s more, lawyers for Trump, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have acknowledged that such conversations did, in fact, take place, and have defended them happening as a means for Trump’s legal team to get a handle on what direction the inquiry, being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, is heading in.
Earlier this week, the special counsel made attempts to rescind its plea deal that was reached with Manafort, citing his lying to investigators. His possible back-channel conversations with the Trump White House through his lawyer likely contributed to that decision by the special counsel’s office.
The investigation is allegedly into the possibility that the president may have known, while he was a candidate for office, whether a secret meeting between his son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner took place at Trump Tower in June of 2016. That meeting involved discussions with a Russian lawyer, who has close ties to the Kremlin, about getting possible “dirt” on Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Hillary Clinton.
NEW: Lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have briefed Pres. Trump's legal team on what Manafort has told special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors, president's lead attorney tells @ABC News. https://t.co/vTP3GHZIuI pic.twitter.com/G3WXvVPsQ4— ABC News (@ABC) November 28, 2018
Giuliani acknowledged that Manafort’s lawyers told him that’s what Mueller’s team wanted to find out.
“[Mueller] wants Manafort to incriminate Trump,” Giuliani said.
Such conversations are technically not in violation of any crime on the books, but they do present the possibility of Mueller rescinding his previous plea deal to Manafort on the basis of him hindering the investigation. Manafort’s plea bargain with the special counsel was contingent on him cooperating with the inquiry.
What could have motivated Manafort to instruct his lawyers to speak with Trump’s legal team? Some experts have suggested that in doing so, Manafort is hoping that Trump could decide to pardon him of crimes he has been charged with and future crimes associated with the special counsel’s inquiry. Now, however, with the discovery of these conversations, the chances of such a pardon has decreased, according to at least one other expert on the matter.
“It never occurred to me that Manafort and (particularly) his lawyers could be so stupid to back channel information to Trump, and therefore I did not think his lies were related to a pardon,” Daniel Goldman, an NBC News legal analyst, wrote in a tweet on Wednesday morning. “A pardon now should result in Trump’s immediate expulsion from office.”