WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul Manafort's attorneys head to court Friday at a time of frenetic activity in the special counsel's Russia investigation as prosecutors obtained a guilty plea from President Donald Trump's longtime fixer and appear to be lining up charges against another Trump supporter.
Prosecutors this week revealed that Manafort's plea deal had fallen apart after they say the former Trump campaign chairman lied to investigators. They are expected to provide some detail about those false statements Friday. The move comes as Trump is facing questions about whether he will pardon Manafort and as he is attempting to downplay the guilty plea of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, for lying to Congress.
None of the recent moves by special counsel Robert Mueller have definitively answered the question of whether Trump or his associates coordinated with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. And they don't directly accuse the president of any criminal wrongdoing or indicate that the president faces legal jeopardy.
But Trump has continually surfaced in Mueller's investigation, with references to him in Cohen's plea on Thursday and in a draft plea offer — made public this week — extended to conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.
On Wednesday, Trump expressed sympathy for Manafort, Corsi and his longtime confidant Roger Stone, telling the New York Post that they are "very brave" for resisting the Mueller investigation. He also said a pardon for Manafort wasn't "off the table."
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Trump told reporters "it's very sad what happened to Paul" But he stressed that he hasn't offered Manafort a pardon and was only responding to a question in the Post interview about whether he would.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said Thursday that any pardon of Manafort would be a "complete abuse of power" and could prompt congressional action against the president.
Trump has spent recent weeks casting Mueller's team as hell-bent on destroying the lives of those in his orbit. Armed with information passed along by Manafort's attorneys to the president's legal team, Trump has accused prosecutors of dirty tactics and pressuring witnesses to lie.
The arrangement with Manafort's lawyers is unusual because it continued after he pleaded guilty to two felony charges and agreed to cooperate with the government. Trump's legal team also has received help from Corsi. He told the AP that while in contact with Mueller's team, he directed his lawyer to informally share information with Trump's attorneys, including Jay Sekulow.
Sekulow also received the draft plea documents anonymously a couple weeks ago, according to a person familiar who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the matter. The legal team alerted the Justice Department, but privately was put off by a reference to Trump in the document, the person said.
Corsi, who rejected the plea deal, has said he expects to be charged by Mueller with lying to investigators as part of the probe's scrutiny of WikiLeaks and whether he or Stone had advance knowledge of the group's release of thousands of hacked emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia was the source of the material provided to WikiLeaks.
Both men have denied having any contact with WikiLeaks or having any foreknowledge of its plans. Corsi also denies making false statements to investigators.
Mueller's team has raised the prospect of filing additional charges against Manafort for false statements he made after cooperating with the government. Manafort has denied lying.
Mueller's team has said it will lay out the nature of the statements in a later court filing. It's unclear when that document will be filed.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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