The Washington Post is reporting that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to the charges he was facing in his second criminal trial, which was set to begin in the courtroom of Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, DC on Monday, September 24. The exact details of the agreement, as of 10 a.m. EST, remained unclear, including whether or not Manafort would cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his Russia-related investigation. But cooperation with Mueller or not, a plea deal evidently made sense to Manafort—who was convicted of eight criminal counts on August 21 (including bank fraud and tax evasion) and has been preparing to battle even more charges in a second trial (including money laundering and obstruction of justice).
Here are five reasons why a plea deal made sense for Trump’s former campaign manager.
1. Mueller’s Team Could Retry Manafort on 10 Mistrial Counts
The eight felony counts that Manafort was convicted of on August 21 weren’t the only charges that he faced in the courtroom of Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Virginia. There were 18 counts altogether, but Ellis declared a mistrial on those charges when jurors couldn’t reach an agreement on them—and that hung jury came about because of a lone juror. All the other jurors wanted to convict him on all 18 charges. Had that juror been persuaded on the ten mistrial charges, Manafort could have been convicted of 18 criminal counts in Alexandria instead of “only” eight. And Mueller’s team still had the option of retrying Manafort on those ten mistrial charges.
2. Manafort Is Facing a Less Sympathetic Judge in Amy Berman Jackson
During Manafort’s first trial, Judge Ellis often butted heads with federal prosecutors. Ellis didn’t hide his bias against the prosecution, which he was often critical of during that trial. But Judge Amy Berman Jackson, on the other hand, has clashed with Manafort’s defense team. And it was Jackson (a Barack Obama appointee) who, earlier this year, removed Manafort’s home detention status and ordered him jailed for tampering with witnesses.
3. Manafort Is Spending a Fortune on Legal Fees
Manafort has very deep pockets, and he can afford the best defense team imaginable. But even so, the former Trump campaign manager was evidently ready to cut his losses. Manafort’s first trial no doubt cost him a fortune in legal fees, and a second trial would cost him even more.
4. The Evidence Is Even More Damning in the Second Trial
As much evidence as Mueller’s team had against Manafort in the first trial, they have even more evidence in the second trial. It has no doubt occurred to Manafort that if he was convicted on eight counts in a trial that had less evidence and a sympathetic judge, he would be facing even more of an uphill climb in a trial with an unsympathetic judge and even more evidence.
5. Manafort Could Be Tried at the State Level
President Trump has the power to grant Manafort a pardon for the eight counts he was convicted of in Alexandria as well as any charges he could be convicted of in the second trial—and for that matter, any convictions that may result if he were retried on the ten mistrial charges. But Trump’s presidential pardon powers only exist at the federal level, and if Manafort were to be convicted in any possible state-level prosecutions, the president couldn’t grant a pardon.