Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation appears to be heating up.
After a new court filing revealed on Monday that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort violated his plea agreement, The New York Times reported late Tuesday that one of Manafort’s lawyers may have engaged in some unexpected activities himself.
The lawyer reportedly briefed President Donald Trump’s lawyers on Manafort’s discussions with federal investigators even after he agreed to cooperate with Mueller. According to the Times, it is common practice for defense lawyers to form alliances to enable them to share information without violating attorney-client privilege—but these alliances typically end if one of the defendants cooperates with prosecutors.
Such was the case with Michael Flynn’s lawyer, who withdrew from one of these alliances with Trump’s lawyers when Flynn pleaded guilty last year. Manafort’s lawyers did not follow custom, and maintained their agreement with Trump’s legal team even after he pleaded guilty in September, a fact to which Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has admitted.
Giuliani told ABC News that “they share with me the things that pertain to our part of the case,” while the Times reported that he “defended it as a source of valuable insights.” The Times points out that while such discussions between lawyers is not technically illegal, it does serve to exacerbate the tensions between Manafort and Mueller’s teams.
While the frequency and depth of the conversations between Manafort and Trump’s lawyers is not clear, they reportedly served to reassure the latter that the former hadn’t implicated Trump, while potentially leaving open the possibility of an eventual pardon for Manafort.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday night, Trump would only speak off the record about his opinion of the events concerning Manafort. Nevertheless, Trump seemed to suggest in a tweet in late August that he had sympathy for his former campaign chairman and that a pardon was not off the table.
When asked whether he would commit to allowing Mueller to complete his investigation, Trump only noted that he had been asked the question numerous times over the last nearly two years. “And in the meantime, he’s still there,” he said. “He wouldn’t have to be, but he’s still there, so I have no intention of doing anything.”
But on Wednesday morning, Trump suggested in a tweet that Mueller’s “Gang of Dems” is compelling witnesses to lie, calling it “our Joseph McCarthy Era.”
“While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!”
Should Manafort’s plea deal collapse with Mueller, it is possible that Mueller’s team could use it as an opportunity to release more details surrounding his ongoing investigation, outside of a final report that would need to go through Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.