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How Paul Manafort’s conviction could affect the Russia probe

A jury found President Trump's 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. A mistrial was declared on 10 other counts. Judy Woodruff learns more from William Brangham and Jessica Roth of Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jessica Roth, you're going to be staying with us tonight to talk about our other major story.

    And that is the jury in Alexandria, Virginia, finding the president's former campaign chair Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. A mistrial, as we reported earlier, was declared on 10 other counts.

    So, William, you were in the courtroom. You have been following this trial very closely. Tell us about the moment when the jury came forward with the verdict.

  • William Brangham:

    Well, similarly to what happened with Michael Cohen, this is a very striking moment. This is really the first time a jury, a real, live, breathing jury, had a chance to weigh evidence that Robert Mueller's team has brought.

    And the jury had given a hint earlier in the day that there was some question about that they might get hung up on some of these charges. They submitted a question to the judge saying, what happens if we can't come to an agreement? What does that mean for the verdict?

    And so when they came back this afternoon, they announced to the judge, we have come to an agreement, but we can't come to agreement on 10 separate counts.

    But when the — when the verdict was read, and there were eight straight pleas of guilty, it was a striking moment. Paul Manafort was standing there at that table, with his counsel next to him, sort of stoically looking at the jury as they did this.

    Some members of the jury seem determined to look at him for the first time and really stare at him as the guilty verdicts were read. Several others seem to be intentionally looking away, looking at the floor, looking at the ceiling, and not trying to pay attention. But it was a striking moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what was — you said he was stoic?

  • William Brangham:

    Yes, he was there, as his wife, who's been there for much of the trial as well.

    And he sat — was rather stone-faced the entire time. You couldn't really read how he was reacting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So no particular reaction from family members or others, others in the courtroom?

  • William Brangham:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    William, we have been waiting for this verdict. This trial has been — been — we have been waiting for the trial and now for the verdict.

    Did the judge after the verdict — verdicts, plural, were announced say what happens next?

  • William Brangham:

    The judge is going to have to — there's some formal paperwork that needs to be filed. He's going to pass sentence on these certain counts. And there's some minimum sentence requirements and maximum requirements. He gets to make a judgment call on those.

    And the prosecution and the defense get to submit their decisions on that. But there's a sentencing trial coming up. So that will — that will be sometime in the near future. But we don't know exactly how many years Mr. Manafort might be facing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Jessica Roth, still with us, guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. What does that add up to in terms of how serious?

  • Jessica Roth:

    Those are very serious charges.

    Again, these are all felonies carrying significant prison time. And what they demonstrate is that the jury found, all the members of the jury as to these counts, that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Manafort engaged in these activities of fraud, and that he was engaged, again, knowingly, that this was no accident.

    So they credited the testimony of the witnesses. And as to these particular, for example, bank loans and tax filings, they found that Mr. Manafort had willfully violated the law. So this is extraordinarily serious conduct. And he faces very stiff penalties as a consequence, even if the government decides not to proceed, again, with another trial on the charges as to which the jury could not reach agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's worth sharing with our audience what President Trump's reaction was to the Manafort verdict.

    He arrived in West Virginia just a short time ago. Reporters asked him both about the Michael Cohen verdict, which he didn't comment on, but he had this to say about the Manafort verdict.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It has nothing to do what they started out, looking for Russian involved in our campaign. There were none.

    I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. Again, he worked for Bob Dole. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for many, many people, and this is the way it ends up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Jessica Roth, the president minimizing the effect of this. And, earlier, he's been saying Paul Manafort is a good man.

    But let's talk for a moment about the impact or not this may have on the Mueller-Russia investigation. None of these charges had to do directly with that. So is this on a completely separate track from what Mr. Mueller is working on?

  • Jessica Roth:

    Well, none — as you said, none of these charges relate to the Russia investigation.

    However, what they demonstrate is that somebody who was very close to the president and who was managing his campaign was involved in significant fraudulent activity. So we don't know yet fully how this might at some point connect up to the rest of the special counsel's investigation.

    What we do know, though, is given that what Mr. Manafort was convicted of, he's facing, as I said, significant penalties, and he may yet decide that he would like to cooperate with the special counsel. And if he has information that is useful to the special counsel's investigation, that could either connect to this activity, of which has already he has been convicted, to that larger investigation, or it may continue to be separate.

    But he is now in a position where, now having been convicted of these serious charges, he may yet again have to decide whether or not it's in his best interest to cooperate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    William, pick up on that.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, as you were saying, it is correct, and the president has long said that Mr. Manafort's case wasn't about Russia. But in some ways, it is absolutely about Russia.

    None of these charges had to do with largely his time working on the campaign. The belief is that Robert Mueller thinks that Paul Manafort has some information that he wants for his larger investigation and that, by prosecuting Paul Manafort and getting these guilty pleas, he might be able to turn him or extract that information out.

    Now, it's important to say we have no idea whether Paul Manafort has any relevant information. We know he was on the campaign during the early stages. He was there at that infamous Trump Tower meeting.

    But we just don't know what information is there. But that's the $64,000 question is, what does he have? And is this an attempt to try to squeeze him to get that information out?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, he is facing, William, another trial coming up the next couple of months on another set of charges that do have a closer relationship to the Mueller investigation.

  • William Brangham:

    Yes, this is a trial that will begin in D.C., another federal district court.

    And these potentially have even graver consequences for Mr. Manafort if he was found guilty. These are charges of money laundering, witness tampering, failure to disclose that he was acting as a foreign agent as part of his work as a Ukrainian political consultant.

    The potential charges against him there could be in the range of 15 to 20 years if he were found guilty. So that is facing him. He can certainly appeal today's conviction. A lot of uncertainty for Mr. Manafort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we can't — Jessica Roth, we can't know what's on the — in the mind of Robert Mueller this evening as these verdicts have come down in the Manafort case.

    But if you are Robert Mueller, and you are trying to get to the bottom of what happened, do you think you are any closer as a result of these — of the Manafort jury verdicts?

  • Jessica Roth:

    I don't know that you're any closer in terms of what we have learned as a consequence of this trial. I think it's a vindication for the special counsel and his team to have obtained these verdicts, even if it wasn't on all of the charges.

    It means that the jury credited the testimony of the witnesses that they called and the other evidence of extensive fraud engaged in by Mr. Manafort. And that's important in and of itself. These were significant crimes.

    Whether it has the consequence of bringing Mr. Manafort to the table is another question. Certainly, the special counsel's hand is stronger tonight than he would — it would have been had there been no guilty verdicts in this case.

    But, also, as Mr. Brangham said, we don't know if Mr. Manafort has information about Mr. Trump that would be helpful to — President Trump — to Mr. Mueller. So there are a lot of open questions.

    But, certainly, I think that the Mueller team is — must feel vindicated this evening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of open questions, but we did get some answers today.

    Former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth, now a professor at Yeshiva University, and William Brangham, who's been covering the Manafort trial, thank you both.

  • William Brangham:

    You're welcome.

  • Jessica Roth:

    Thank you.

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