SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Paul Manafort has turned state's evidence. He pleaded guilty to two felony charges and has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation. His lawyer addressed reporters yesterday.
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KEVIN DOWNING: It's a tough day for Mr. Manafort, but he's accepted responsibility. He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.
SIMON: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us in the studio. Carrie, thanks so much for being with us.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: A trial - potential jurors were getting ready to report to the courthouse. What happened?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Manafort, in a surprise, pleaded guilty to two felonies - conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Scott, that includes avoiding taxes, lying to the Justice Department, failing to register his lobbying work for a political party in Ukraine. And then there's the witness tampering after Manafort was already indicted.
The prosecutor - Andrew Weissmann, spent more than a half-hour describing all the incriminating evidence in court yesterday. The judge said it was the longest and most-detailed summary she'd ever heard in her courtroom. Bottom line, Paul Manafort now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. Remember, he's 69 years old.
SIMON: From what you can tell, Carrie, is this a better deal for Robert Mueller, the special counsel, or for Paul Manafort?
JOHNSON: This looks like a significant advance for the special counsel team - yet another guilty plea in an investigation that's not even a year and a half old. And they've got Paul Manafort to forfeit a ton of property in money. He's giving up his estate in The Hamptons, his condo in Trump Tower in New York, bank accounts, an insurance policy. That adds up to tens of millions of dollars - maybe enough to pay for the Mueller investigation, as one blogger, Marcy Wheeler, has noted.
SIMON: And I understand there's language that if he gets a pardon...
JOHNSON: If he gets a pardon, Mueller may be able to keep all of those goodies under the terms of the plea deal.
SIMON: Not personally - the government, you mean.
JOHNSON: The government, yeah.
SIMON: Of course, the president once praised Paul Manafort for not being a flipper. What are the implications for the Russia investigation?
JOHNSON: Well, you look at the document, the plea deal requires Paul Manafort to talk about any and all matters of interest to the special counsel. That includes testifying at trials, talking with grand juries, answering questions from the prosecutors and the FBI. And he's already started to give them some information, the government says. If he's not truthful, authorities can back out of this deal.
Now in the past, Manafort has said he doesn't have any evidence on campaign coordination with Russia, but, Scott, he was the campaign manager during that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. He worked for free for Donald Trump through the Republican National Convention at a time when the party platform on Ukraine was watered down. He had a lot of relationships with oligarchs. Prosecutors must've thought he had something worthwhile to offer him this deal.
SIMON: And, Carrie, how do you assess the White House reaction?
JOHNSON: Well, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, says this has absolutely nothing to do with the president or the campaign, which Donald Trump won. And Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says the plea basically means that Donald Trump did nothing wrong.
The special counsel team, which actually knows what this means, is not talking. They are doing their talking in court. So we're going to have to wait and see where they go next in the courtroom to figure out what this means for the president and his son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner and some of the other people involved in this campaign.
SIMON: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks so much for being on the case and for being with us.
JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.