Virginia judge: Paul Manafort plea deal in Washington 'highly unusual'

Source: Washington Examiner | October 11, 2018 | Kelly Cohen

The federal judge who oversaw the federal trial against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Virginia called the plea deal in the District to dismiss the deadlocked charges only after he has finished cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller “highly unusual.”

In a Wednesday order made public Thursday morning, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis II ordered prosecutors, Manafort, and his defense team to appear in his Alexandria, Va., courtroom next Friday to address the status of the deadlocked counts and set a sentencing date.

Under a plea agreement reached last month, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction charges, and also agreed to “cooperate fully and truthfully” with the special counsel’s investigation. Thus, he avoided a second criminal trial in Washington.

In exchange, the special counsel agreed to drop a handful of other charges against Manafort in Washington, including money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent.

In addition, Mueller’s team agreed that after “successful cooperation,” the 10 bank and tax fraud charges on which the jury was unable to reach a verdict would be dismissed. A Virginia jury convicted Manafort on eight bank and tax fraud charges in August.

Ahead of the Nov. 16 deadline for both teams to file a status report on Manafort’s sentencing in Washington, Ellis said he wants to discuss the Washington agreement that would seek to dismiss the 10 outstanding charges in Virginia. The hearing is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. on Oct. 19 at the federal courthouse in Alexandria.

“This would be highly unusual,” Ellis wrote. “In this district, the government’s decision to re-try a defendant on deadlocked counts is always made in a timely manner and sentencing occurs within two to no more than four months from entry of a guilty plea or receipt of a jury verdict.”

Ellis explained that if Manafort is to continue cooperating with Mueller’s team ahead of sentencing, and plans to cooperate after sentencing, the special counsel must file motions to show that Manafort is giving “substantial assistance” to the federal government, and thus deserves a lower sentence.

“This case appears to be no different than any other case in which defendant is cooperating and that cooperation is expected to extend beyond a scheduled sentencing date,” Ellis said.

Ellis added that the “proper course of action” is to resolve the deadlocked counts either by retrial or dismissal, sentence Manafort, and “resolve any motions related to the defendant’s cooperation.”

Ellis’ order does not immediately jeopardize Manafort’s entire plea deal, but does have the potential to impact how much he is willing to cooperate with the special counsel.

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