Paul Manafort is playing a high-stakes game of poker as his second criminal trial draws nearer.
Manafort’s lawyers are reportedly in talks with the special counsel Robert Mueller about a possible plea deal to stop the second trial from going forward.
Manafort has several options on how best to maximize his chances against Mueller. But Justice Department veterans say that no matter what he picks, “there are no good choices, there are just differing levels of bad choices.”
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As Paul Manafort’s second criminal trial looms, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign is reportedly in talks with the special counsel Robert Mueller about a possible plea deal before things kick off.
But regardless of what Manafort ultimately chooses, Justice Department veterans say it’s a high-risk gamble that could very well end with him spending the rest of his life in jail.
Mueller’s office charged Manafort in two separate indictments as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Manafort pleaded not guilty in both, and he was convicted in his first trial earlier this summer on eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts. He faces a possible decade in prison.
In the second case, brought in Washington, DC, Manafort has been charged with illegal lobbying, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and money laundering.
Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino family boss John Gotti, said Manafort has “great incentive” to consider a plea deal to save himself the expense and minimize the additional years he would face in prison if he’s convicted in the second trial.
Legal experts say the best option for Manafort would be for him to plead guilty to some charges and agree to cooperate with prosecutors. That way, he would be guaranteed a more lenient sentence.
But based on his aggressive defense strategy so far, as well as his lawyers’ public comments, it’s unlikely Manafort would agree to such a deal.
Earlier this summer, for instance, Manafort’s lead defense attorney Kevin Downing said there was “no chance” his client would flip on the president. The comment suggests Manafort is betting hard on getting a pardon from Trump, who has repeatedly complained about how unfairly Manafort is being treated.
If Manafort agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, it would likely throw a wrench into any possibility of securing a pardon.
That leaves three options.
Door number one: Plead guilty, but don’t cooperate
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse after a hearing on May23, 2018 in Washington, DC. Manafort was indicted last year by a federal grand jury and has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him including, conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, and being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal.
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Manafort could potentially pursue a plea deal that allows him to admit to some charges, but without an agreement to cooperate. That option, crucially, would leave the door open to a presidential pardon.
He would also likely get some time knocked off his sentence if he chose this option. Federal sentencing guidelines state that defendants get one point off their sentencing calculation — which results in a reduced sentence — if they plead guilty in time to save the government the effort of preparing for a case and trying it.
The problem in Manafort’s case, however, is that the trial will begin in a few days. Jury selection is set to begin on Monday, and opening arguments are scheduled for September 24. That means prosecutors have already spent all the time and money they were going to in order to prepare for the case.
“If the government agrees to a plea deal without cooperation now, they save nothing in terms of time, money, or resources,” Cotter said. “The only way they’d agree to a deal that involves dismissing some charges and asking for a lesser sentence is if it involves a cooperation agreement.”
If Manafort had decided to pursue a plea deal as recently as last month, immediately after he was convicted in the first trial, experts say he would have had a realistic shot at securing a deal without having to cooperate. Now, they say it’s too late.
That leaves two other options, neither of which bode well for the former Trump campaign chairman.
This courtroom sketch shows Paul Manafort, third from the right, and members of his defense team including Kevin Downing, standing left, as they listen to verdicts in federal court in Manafort’s the bank fraud and tax evasion trial in the courtroom of U.S. District court Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Seated at far right is Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni sitting next to Manafort’s wife Kathleen.
(Dana Verkouteren via AP)
If Manafort chooses to go to trial, he could go one of two paths. The first would involve him pleading guilty to all the charges against him as soon as the trial begins, a tactic known as “eating the indictment.”
In that case, Manafort would “throw himself to the mercy of the court,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor in Chicago. “Then, prosecutors can argue all they want for Manafort’s sentence, but it’s ultimately up to the judge to weigh two opposing views on what that sentence should be.”
If Manafort chose that route, it would send a clear message to the White House that he was still in Trump’s corner. The judge overseeing the case would also likely show him some leniency because he would have admitted his guilt.
“And hopefully, the sentence Manafort would get would run concurrent to the sentence from his first trial,” meaning that both sentences would be carried out at the same time, Cramer said. “If they run consecutive, however, now Manafort goes from looking at 10 years to maybe 15 or 16 years in prison.”
If Manafort were to choose this route, it would also force him to detail the specifics of his alleged criminal activity. That possibility would likely rattle the White House, because the Washington, DC, case against Manafort is more deeply linked to collusion and Manafort’s time on the Trump campaign than the first case against him, which primarily centered around Manafort’s financial crimes before he joined the campaign.
The last option is for Manafort to stick it out and go to trial.
This is the riskiest path for the former Trump campaign chairman for a few reasons.
The first speaks to Mueller’s track record so far in the Russia investigation. Out of the seven US persons charged in the probe, six have pleaded guilty, and one — Manafort — was convicted following a trial.
“The evidence is there,” Cramer said. “These are not bogus charges. If Manafort goes to trial, that would likely be like a slow, drawn out guilty plea, given the evidence Mueller has and the way Manafort’s first trial went.”
“From everything I can tell about this case and what’s been made public, as well as what we saw in his first trial, the government has very, very little chance of not getting a conviction if this second trial goes forward,” he said.
A second trial would also put a bigger dent in Manafort’s finances, which likely took a significant hit when he decided to move forward with the first trial instead of striking a plea deal, like his former business associate Rick Gates did.
That said, there are two potential upsides to Manafort going to trial.
The first is that if Manafort is convicted, he may not be convicted on all the charges. In his first trial, for instance, Manafort was charged with 18 counts but convicted on just eight because one juror held out on the other ten charges.
“The best thing for Manafort to do is plead guilty and cooperate,” Cotter said, “but if he doesn’t do that, he should shoot his shot and take this thing to trial. He might get lucky like he did in the Virginia case. So his lawyer may tell him to roll the dice and fight it.”
The second upside is that, like the previous two options, Manafort would be leaving the door to a presidential pardon wide open if he goes to trial. He may even up his chances in this case, experts said, because the stress of going through the whole process would elicit a stronger response from the president, who frequently accuses the special counsel of going on a politically motivated fishing expedition to undermine his presidency.
“Manafort has to hope and pray — and make no mistake, that’s what it is, a hope and a prayer — that the president pardons him at some point,” Cramer said. “And boy, Manafort’s got to be rally comfortable in his belief that that’s going to happen if he’s going to bet his freedom on it.”
Cotter echoed that view and noted, “The one thing I’d say to him if I were his lawyer is that you don’t have any good choices left. There are no good choices, there are just differing levels of bad choices at this point in his life.”
Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]
“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank. The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain.
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone
Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.
Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.
ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.
Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.
Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.
A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.
Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.
The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.
Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.
“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.
In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.
“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.
“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”
The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.
Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.
The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.
They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.
The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.
Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.
As part of aggressive campaigns for his presidential bid, the DP, who views the former Prime Minister as his main challenger in the 2022 polls, will begin his tour in Migori and Kisumu in the third week of July, and thereafter Homa Bay and Siaya in the last week.
The DP has rolled out a ground operation that includes United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party and aspirants’ regional forums, regional economic forums, allowing affiliate political parties to sprout without the demand that they merge with UDA and assembling a wide array of professionals to front his presidential bid.
In a politically changed environment unlike the one in 2017 when he was an influential voice in government and the chief campaigner, DP Ruto now finds himself technically being the head of the opposition after the acrimonious fall-out with the President.
The relationship has worsened further after President Kenyatta’s truce with the ODM leader, his main challenger in the 2017 disputed presidential vote, thus alienating the DP further.
His allies say he’s building the infrastructure that will help him win decisively in the first round in next year’s presidential election.
Leading the preparations for the DP’s Nyanza tour is Mr Odinga’s former aide, management consultant and strategist Eliud Owalo, who is also the convener of the Luo-Nyanza Economic Caucus.
Yesterday, he said the DP will start his Nyanza tour in mid-July for what he termed an intensive grassroots tour aimed at campaigning for his presidential bid.
“The leader of the Hustler movement, Deputy President William Ruto, will make an intensive grassroots tour of the four Luo-Nyanza counties within the second half of the month of July.
In the two-legged tour, he will first visit Migori and Kisumu counties in the third week of July 2021 followed closely by a tour of Homa Bay and Siaya in the fourth week of July 2021,” read a statement sent to newsroom, which Mr Owalo signed.
Apart from the meet the people tour, the DP is expected to attend church services as well as continue with his economic empowerment programmes for youth and women groups.
The DP is expected to use the tour in his political opponent’s backyard to popularise his bottom-up economic model.
The region has always voted overwhelmingly for the ODM chief in the past elections.
“We want the Luo Nyanza region to lay its stake in any future governance dispensation on the basis of a responsive and feasible development agenda for our people as opposed to positions that individual members of the community will be holding in that government,” Mr Owalo said.
The DP started courting the region last year when Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi hosted more than 100 youths from Nyanza under the umbrella of “Nyanza Youth Movement for Ruto 2022” led by Mr Stephen Midenyo aka Mada and 2013 Rangwe Parliamentary candidate Everest Okambo.
A year ago, as part of a broader plot targeting the region, Mr Sudi and his Kiharu counterpart Ndindi Nyoro made a discreet visit to Bondo and Kisumu counties in what they described as “private functions” but which had a strong political inclination.
A week ago, Migori governor Okoth Obado, who is viewed as a rebel in the region, was hosted by Mr David Ruto, the DP’s brother.
The plan, Mr Sudi says, is to target the youth, women’s groups and the church to reach out to the Nyanza populace and lure a significant number of voters to join DP Ruto’s bandwagon.
“We’re reaching out to the whole country because the hustler movement is not confined to a certain region,” Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono told the Nation.
A meeting convened by Mr Owalo at a Nairobi hotel in mid-May had many former foot soldiers of Mr Odinga attending. They include those who decamped after losing ODM nominations in 2013 and 2017 elections, among them former Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma, former Rongo MP Dalmas Otieno and former Rangwe MP Martin Ogindo.
Also in attendance was Citizen’s Convention Party (CCP) leader Grace Akumu.
UDA Secretary-General Veronica Maina told the Nation that in their recruitment drive, Nyanza is not left out. The party’s clerks, she said, are stationed in the region.
Won’t bear fruit
Mr Odinga’s troops led by Suba South MP John Mbadi have been on record saying that such meetings won’t bear fruits for the DP.
Mr Mbadi said the DP needs to understand why people of Nyanza associate with ODM and believe in Mr Odinga. The DP is also said to be making inroads in Mr Odinga’s other support bases of Western and Coast.