Reuters reports that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will cooperate with the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a dramatic turnaround in a probe that the U.S. president derides as a political witch hunt.
After months of refusing to assist Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference and possible coordination between Trump campaign members and Moscow, Manafort finally took a plea deal on Friday and agreed to cooperate in return for reduced charges. Trump had previously praised Manafort in an Aug. 22 Twitter post as “a brave man” for his refusal to cooperate with the inquiry.
It is unclear what information Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant who ran the campaign as it took off in mid-2016, could offer prosecutors but his cooperation might bring Trump, his family and associates under closer scrutiny.
The White House distanced Trump from the man who helped get him elected in November 2016 against the odds in a bitterly contested campaign in which he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “It is totally unrelated.”
Cornell University professor of law Jens David Ohlin said it was hard to predict what information a cooperation agreement will yield but that Manafort’s deal could be a serious problem for Trump.
“If Manafort is willing to give Mueller information about Trump’s contacts with Russia, whether the contacts were direct or indirect, then this really is a disaster for Trump and his associates.”