By Nathan Layne
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller may provide new details on Friday on how two of President Donald Trump’s closest former aides have helped or hindered his investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Mueller last month accused Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of breaching a plea bargain agreement by lying to prosecutors, and he will submit information on those alleged lies in a filing to a federal court in Washington.
The filing could shed new light on Manafort’s business dealings or his consulting for pro-Kremlin interests in Ukraine.
Manafort, who maintains he has been truthful with Mueller, managed Trump’s campaign for three months in 2016.
Also on Friday, Mueller’s office and the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York are to file sentencing memos on Michael Cohen, Trump’s former private lawyer.
Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes in federal court in New York in August, and last week he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in a Mueller case. Sentencing for both of those cases will be handled by one judge.
Muller may disclose new information to supplement Cohen’s admission last week that he sought help from the Kremlin for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow late into the 2016 campaign.
Mueller’s probe has infuriated Trump, who has regularly issued tweets criticizing Muller and his team. The president has denied any collusion between his team and Russia, and accuses Mueller’s prosecutors of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his election campaign and his business dealings.
The president has called Cohen a liar and “weak person.”
Trump lashed out in new tweets early Friday, again questioning prosecutors and accusing federal investigators and senior officials of having conflicts of interest, without offering any evidence.
Representatives for the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Special Counsel’s Office declined to comment on Trump’s tweets.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said he was looking to see if Mueller’s prosecutors offer evidence that directly or tacitly support Cohen’s assertions that Trump directed him to make hush payments to women in violation of campaign finance law and that he let the White House know what he planned to tell Congress about the Moscow skyscraper project. Cohen now says he lied in that testimony.
“If the government does not contest that, it indicates that it is consistent with the evidence that they do have,” Mariotti said, referring to Cohen’s assertions. “It could be a big day.”
The filings on Cohen and Manafort follow a sentencing memo earlier this week regarding Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
In the memo, Mueller praised Flynn for providing “substantial” cooperation and argued that he should receive no prison time, a move widely seen by legal experts as a message to other would-be cooperators that assistance would be rewarded.
Cohen is hoping prosecutors make a similar recommendation, emphasizing in a court filing last week that his decision to cooperate came in the face of fierce criticism by Trump of Mueller’s probe.
Cohen’s lawyers also argued that celebrities engaged in similar tax evasion cases – one of the core charges against him – have faced only civil penalties. The lawyers said his financial crimes were unsophisticated, noting no overseas accounts were used.
Manafort, in addition to allegedly lying to Mueller, was convicted in a separate case in Virginia for a sophisticated bank and tax fraud scheme that included tens of millions of dollars in payments for his work in Ukraine.
Mariotti, the former prosecutor, said he expected Mueller’s office to be unsparing in its submission on Friday.
“They want the judge to throw the book at Manafort, sending a message to him and everyone else,” he said.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney, Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe)