WASHINGTON (CN) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller is considering filing new charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort after his plea deal fell apart over allegations of lying to investigators.
The revelation came at during a Friday morning hearing at which a federal judge set a March 5 sentencing date for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, telling prosecutors and defense attorneys that the date can be pushed back if needed.
Friday’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was the first time Manafort’s attorneys returned to federal court since the special counsel’s office accused him of repeatedly lying to investigators and breaking his September plea agreement.
Manafort, currently jailed in Alexandria, Virginia, waived his appearance for Friday’s hearing. He was represented by attorneys Kevin Downing, Richard Westling and Thomas Zehnle.
Manafort first entered into a plea deal with prosecutors in September, heading off a jury trial in Washington, D.C., on criminal charges related to his past foreign lobbying work for Ukraine.
As part of the deal, he pleaded guilty to reduced charge, and agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” with prosecutors.
But in a filing on Monday, the special counsel’s office said “after signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement.”
Manafort’s defense team immediately pushed back against the claim, writing in a response that Manafort “believes he has provided truthful information and does not agree with the government’s characterization or that he has breached the agreement.”
On Friday, Downing said there are still a lot of unknowns about the prosecution’s claim of a breach of the plea agreement and that his client is entitled to discovery over the allegations.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Mueller’s team thinks Manafort lied about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former associate in Ukraine, who the FBI believes has intelligence ties to Russia.
Special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann meanwhile stood by his office’s claims, without providing any additional details in court.
Asked by Jackson whether the special counsel’s office intends to prosecute Manafort on charges dropped as part of the plea deal or whether they will file new charged stemming from the alleged breach of the deal, Weissmann said “That determination has not been made.”
Both sides did agree on one point — that Jackson should rule on whether Manafort actually did breach his plea agreement before the D.C. probation department prepares its presentencing report.
Prosecutors were told to file a more detailed explanation of what they believe Manafort lied about to investigators by Dec. 7. Manafort’s defense team will then have until January to reply. Jackson said she will likely hold a hearing in mid- or late-January to hear arguments over whether Manafort breached his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
And of course, a presidential pardon for Manafort may not yet be off the table.
The president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told the Associated Press earlier this week that discussion of a pardon was inappropriate for the time being but noted it could be discussed at a later time.
Trump directly weighed in on the possibility of a pardon during an interview in the Oval Office with the New York Post this week.
“It was never discussed but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” Trump said.
If the president pardoned Manafort that would not necessarily be the end of his legal troubles. Double jeopardy bars prosecution for crimes an individual has already been charged with but a few exceptions exist for tax fraud cases in the state of New York.
But anyone pardoned by a president also loses protections under the Fifth Amendment. The amendment protects against self-incrimination and compelled testimony, but essentially only functions in full if a person is under threat of legal jeopardy.
A presidential pardon wipes that threat away and in turn, makes it far easier for law enforcement – or even Congress – to demand the pardoned individual provide testimony.