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Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort Faces New Legal Troubles

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is facing new legal troubles. Manafort struck a plea deal two months ago to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller in his Russia investigation. Mueller now says Manafort violated that agreement by lying to investigators. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here to tell us about it. Welcome to the studio.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: What more do we know about how Manafort allegedly broke his plea agreement?

LUCAS: Well, we don't have specifics at this point. What we do know comes from a joint filing that the special counsel's office and Manafort's defense team submitted to the court. And in that filing, Mueller's team says that Manafort lied to the FBI and the special counsel's office on several subject matters. This is a breach of his plea agreement.

Mueller's office says that it will file a detailed sentencing report to the court that will spell out Manafort's alleged crimes and lies, including those that the special counsel says Manafort committed after he signed his plea agreement.

CORNISH: And Manafort's legal team, what are they saying?

LUCAS: Well, in that joint filing, they say that Manafort has tried to live up to his side of the plea agreement. Remember he made that plea a day before jury selection was to begin in his trial in Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy. The terms of his deal require that he cooperate fully and truthfully with the government, including in the Russia investigation.

Now, Manafort's lawyers disagree with the government's assessment that Manafort lied or violated this agreement in any way. They say that he met with government investigators. He answered their questions. He provided what he believes to be truthful information.

The one thing that the government and the defense do agree on at this point is that there's no reason to delay this. It makes the most sense to move on to sentencing. Manafort already is looking at up to 10 years or so in prison in a related case. So he could very well spend the rest of his life in prison.

CORNISH: What does the collapse of this deal mean for the Russia investigation? I remember Manafort's cooperation, at the time it was announced, was considered some big win for the special counsel.

LUCAS: Right. It's not exactly clear at this point what it means. And that's in large part because we don't know what information Manafort could provide to Mueller. We don't know what Manafort knows.

His supporters have repeatedly said that he doesn't have anything to offer on the president, on Trump. But remember, Manafort was campaign chairman in the summer of 2016. He was involved in very big media and some key events during the - during that stretch of the campaign - top of that list, of course, would be the meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer who was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The good news here is that the public should get a better idea when the special counsel's office submits a new filing on sentencing to the court. That filing can include relevant conduct that is not in the charges against him, but that the government thinks the judge should take into consideration when it comes time for sentencing.

CORNISH: A report today also in The Guardian newspaper alleges that Manafort met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. What do we know about this?

LUCAS: Well The Guardian is reporting that Manafort met with Assange in 2013, in 2015 and then in the spring of 2016 around the month of March. And that last meeting would have been around when Manafort joined the Trump campaign.

Several months later, of course, of WikiLeaks ultimately released stolen Democratic National Committee emails. So such a meeting would certainly be of interest to Mueller's people in its investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia on the release of those hacked emails.

Now, very important to say at this point, WikiLeaks on Twitter has denied the report. And Manafort said today in a statement that The Guardian's story is totally false and deliberately libelous. He says he never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.