As Paul Manafort hits the headlines this week, DOJ veterans say they want to answer a big question: why is Manafort's legal team still communicating with lawyers representing President Donald Trump in the US? framework of the investigation on Russia?
Manafort, the former president of the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in September to charges of conspiracy and obstruction and has since been collaborating with the special council.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lead counsel, told CNN on Tuesday that Manafort's lawyers had contacted him about their relationship with Mueller and that they had problems with the lawyer. special.
"We discuss things that are appropriate," said Giuliani. "[Manafort’s team is] in control. I have no idea what else they are questioning them. I do not want to know. "
But later on Tuesday, the New York Times reported that one of Manafort's lawyers, Kevin Downing, had repeatedly informed the Trump team of what Mueller had asked Manafort.
Giuliani also stated that The Times Downing had given him details about what prosecutors wanted to know – an apparent discrepancy from his earlier statement to CNN that he had "no idea" of what Manafort had been questioned and did not want to know.
Prosecutors would have learned about the existence of communications between the Manafort and Trump teams two months ago and tensions between the two sides have increased since then. They turned out openly on Monday, when Mueller's office said in a new file that Manafort had violated his plea agreement by lying to the investigators.
Read more: Paul Manafort's plea agreement with the federal government is in jeopardy, Mueller accuses him of lying to investigators
Giuliani told INSIDER earlier this year that Manafort was in a joint defense agreement with Trump. But when an accused reverses and accepts a plea agreement, he must withdraw from any common defense agreement to which he is a party.
"It is absolutely not normal for a convicted criminal and now a co-op to continue to tell lawyers of a potential target the relationship with the prosecutor," said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the United States. Ministry of Justice.
"I doubt that many prosecutors have had defendants who used telephone lines to talk to an opposing lawyer who could cross-examine him one day," he said.
"Forgiveness is still the Holy Grail of Manafort"
No technical or legal guidance prevents a lawyer from a forensic investigation target from communicating with attorneys representing another target, whether or not there is a common defense agreement.
But such communications could seriously jeopardize or even compromise a cooperation agreement if one party's lawyers disclosed too much information to the other party's lawyers.
Since he pleaded guilty, Manafort has met with prosecutors nearly a dozen times and, although members of Mueller's team have asked him questions on a wide range of subjects, they "do not get what they want," said an informed source of the discussions. ABC News.
The dispute between the two parties would have been caused by suspicions that Manafort was not quite stingy with all the information that he might know that is relevant to the investigation in Russia.
A source with direct knowledge of the issue told INSIDER Tuesday that Manafort's plea agreement with Mueller was still intact.
"If as a solicitor, I was occupying Manafort 's lawyers, I would have made it clear from the first day that any communication with Trump' s attorneys, or other attorneys for legal reasons, would be the same. other topics, would jeopardize cooperation, "said Elie Honig, former South Attorney. New York District specializes in organized crime cases, told INSIDER.
Manafort's guilty plea was made after a lengthy court battle during which his lawyers aggressively defended Mueller by challenging his authority and claiming that he had exceeded the scope of his mandate when he had accused Manafort of crimes unrelated to Russian connivance.
Legal experts said at the time that Manafort's refusal to flip-flop could have been part of an effort to obtain a presidential pardon. The unusual decision of his lawyers to keep in touch with the Trump team, even after pleading guilty, could indicate the same strategy.
Read more: Trump blames Mueller for "ruining the lives" of people "refusing to lie" after Jerome Corsi announced that he would reject Mueller's plea bargain
"It seems that Manafort is trying to keep all his options open for as long as possible," said Cramer. "He's a career fraudster, so he's consistent, if not anything." He was easily convicted and then decided to cooperate rather than submit to another trial and to a longer term of imprisonment. long."
"But forgiveness remains the Holy Grail of Manafort," he added.
Trump, for his part, seems to be getting more and more heated with Mueller and the Russian probe every day.
The president alternated between defending himself and distancing himself from Manafort. Giuliani told INSIDER earlier this year that Trump would not consider forgiving his former campaign president before the end of the investigation into Russia.
But even if Trump forgives Manafort, that does not mean he's out of the woods.
"Manafort can not count on a pardon, even if it was promised," Ilene Jaroslaw, former federal prosecutor for the eastern district of New York, told INDEP. "His property is permanently confiscated and he remains exposed to prosecution for breaches of the law, such as tax evasion."