Special counsel Robert Mueller and former Trump campaign Paul Manafort have reached what ABC News is describing as a "tentative" plea deal to avert his upcoming trial in D.C., the network reported Thursday based on sources familiar with the negotiations.
However, according to ABC News, it wasn't yet clear whether Manafort was accepting a bargain that would lighten the punishment in exchange for cooperation with the Robert Mueller probe or was entering a guilty plea to avoid a trial.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday in Manafort's second trial in federal court in Washington on charges including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering. He was convicted last month in a separate federal trial in Alexandria, Va., on eight charges of bank and tax fraud, also related to his work in Ukraine.
Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said Wednesday that his team wants to introduce evidence showing the rarity of FARA prosecutions and to argue that the prosecution was instigated by the special counsel's office because Manafort led the Trump campaign.
Following Manafort's conviction in Virginia, Trump said he felt "very badly" for Manafort and praised him for refusing to become a cooperating witness for the government like the president's former legal fixer, Michael Cohen, who separately pleaded guilty in NY to tax fraud, bank fraud and a campaign finance violation.
Manafort hasn't been sentenced in that case, but the prospect of that prison time and more punishment in the District of Columbia may have induced him and his lawyers to seek to avoid the second trial. A pretrial hearing, postponed this week, is scheduled for Friday.
Legal experts say that given the timeline of the trial, it's unlikely prosecutors would agree to a plea deal that doesn't involve an agreement to cooperate with the government. What we still don't know: whether Manafort will cooperate with the special counsel.
Trump has repeatedly come to Manafort's defense. In ruling against Manafort's request for a change of venue, Jackson said she could reconsider if they are unable to qualify enough jurors to proceed to jury selection in the case, scheduled to begin September 17.
Trump discussed a possible pardon for Manafort with his lawyers earlier this summer, attorney Rudy Giuliani has told NPR.