Even after signing a plea deal with the special counsel in September, Paul Manafort’s lawyer provided President Trump’s attorneys briefings on the former campaign chairman’s interactions with federal investigators, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The move was most certainly a provocative one and would be highly unusual for a defendant offered a deal in return for a reduced sentence—as Manafort was by the Mueller team—for fear that it might jeopardize the plea deal. The Times points out that the arrangement where Manafort attorney Kevin Downing passed along information about the line of questioning pursued by Robert Mueller is not technically illegal, but it reportedly angered the Mueller team, which accused Manafort Monday of breaching his agreement to cooperate, opening him up to far greater jail time.
The disclosures to the Trump team surely added to the special counsel’s mounting belief that Manafort was double-dealing. And it’s hard to read Manafort’s efforts to help Trump as anything other than an attempt to curry favor and signal his allegiance to the president in hopes of a pardon. Before striking a deal with prosecutors, Manafort’s legal team had been coordinating with Trump’s lawyers under a joint defense agreement, which is commonly used by defense attorneys during investigations with multiple witnesses to facilitate sharing of information without violating attorney-client privilege rules. Trump’s team reportedly had such agreements with 32 people involved in the investigation—either as witnesses or subjects—but when a defendant agrees to cooperate with the prosecution, typically the defendant’s lawyer withdraws from the joint defense agreement in order to stay in good standing with prosecutors, as was the case with former national security adviser Michael Flynn last year.
“Though it was unclear how frequently he spoke to Mr. Trump’s lawyers or how much he revealed, his updates helped reassure Mr. Trump’s legal team that Mr. Manafort had not implicated the president in any possible wrongdoing,” the Times reports. “Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.”