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Mueller's big Friday: The special counsel is set to release new details on Manafort and Cohen

CNBC logo CNBC 12/7/2018

Slideshow by Business Insider

Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday is set to file new disclosures in court cases involving two of President Donald Trump's former close associates, both of whom have entered guilty pleas as part of the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election in 2016.

Mueller is expected to recommend a sentence for Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, ahead of a federal judge's final sentencing decision on Tuesday. Federal prosecutors in New York, who acquired their own guilty plea from Cohen months earlier, will also be filing a sentencing memo detailing Cohen's cooperation in their investigation.

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley ordered both Mueller's team and the U.S. attorneys in New York to submit their sentencing submissions by 5 p.m. ET.

In a separate case Friday, the special counsel is expected to explain why it accused Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of imploding his plea deal by lying to investigators.

The filings follow a series of seismic developments in Mueller's probe of Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, potential obstruction of justice and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The new activity also comes as Trump appears to be cranking up both the frequency and intensity of his attacks on the investigation, which he has often decried as a "phony witch hunt."

Manafort, 69, was convicted in Virginia federal court in August on eight criminal counts brought by Mueller that were mostly related to his work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. He struck a plea agreement with the special counsel in September, on the eve of a second criminal trial in Washington, D.C.

That agreement required Manafort to "cooperate fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly" with investigators. But Mueller scrapped the deal in late November, alleging that Manafort lied to the FBI and the special counsel "on a variety of subject matters" after he signed the deal.

Mueller did not elaborate in that court filing about what falsehoods Manafort allegedly told investigators. In D.C. district court last week, federal prosecutors told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that they had not yet decided whether to lodge more charges against Manafort.

At that hearing, Jackson also set a tentative March 5 sentencing date for Manafort.

The ex-campaign chief has been behind bars since June, when Jackson revoked his $10 million bail after Mueller accused him of attempting to tamper with potential witnesses.

Meanwhile, the 52-year-old Cohen appeared in lower Manhattan federal court last week to plead guilty to Mueller's charge that he had lied to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower development in Moscow.

Cohen falsely told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Moscow proposal "ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others" in the Trump Organization, when Cohen's discussions about the project had actually continued as late as June 2016.

A day after admitting that crime, his attorneys filed a pre-sentencing memo asking a judge not to send Cohen to prison.

They argued that Cohen has taken responsibility for his past by cooperating with investigators, saying the decision attests to his character as a patriot and family man. The media's close scrutiny of Cohen "has been accompanied by threats of physical harm to Michael and his family," the lawyers added, all of which "amounts to an alternative form of punishment that will act as a deterrent against future missteps."

Cohen had already pleaded guilty in August to eight criminal counts related to tax fraud, excessive campaign contributions, making false statements to a financial institution and unlawful corporate contributions. Those charges were brought by New York federal prosecutors.

On Tuesday, Mueller filed a sentencing memo in the case of another star witness in the Russia probe: Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Flynn's guilty plea came in December 2017, when he admitted that he had lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential transition period in 2016. The discussions related to sanctions slapped on Russia by executive order during the final days of the Obama administration.

In a heavily redacted 13-page memo filed late Tuesday, Mueller said Flynn had provided "substantial assistance" to the special counsel, including 19 interviews with investigators and Justice Department attorneys.

As a result, Mueller recommended the judge give a light sentence for Flynn, even suggesting that no jail time at all would be appropriate.


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