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Manafort's Lawyers Brief Trump's Team On Mueller Talks, Giuliani Tells AP


Paul Manafort was President Trump's campaign chairman. He reached a plea deal last year and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel investigating Russian election interference in 2016. Whatever Manafort was telling the special counsel, we now know at least some of it was being passed on to White House lawyers by Manafort's legal team. Why would that be? And is this somehow related to the special counsel accusing Manafort of lying to his office? A lot to cover here with Chad Day of the Associated Press. It was his news organization that spoke to Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and confirmed the arrangement with Manafort. Chad, welcome.

CHAD DAY: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So is it normal for, say, Manafort's lawyers to be keeping the White House up to date on what he's talking to the special counsel about?

DAY: So it's actually highly unusual at this point in the game. You know, it's very common for defendants who are in the same case - multiple defendants that are all in a large investigation to share information as part of these things called joint defense agreements. However, those are usually severed whenever someone pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with the government, as Manafort did earlier this year. And so it's one of those things where it's kind of unexpected to see this in this case.

GREENE: Unexpected, but could there be something illegal if Manafort's lawyers were still keeping the White House up to date after the plea deal was reached?

DAY: So it's not illegal to do this. But what - it is interesting is that it is giving us kind of more insight into some of the comments that the president and some of his lawyers have been making recently. If they are - and as they've confirmed, they're getting some inside information about the investigation. It tells us a lot about some of these tweets that the president has been saying recently where he's attacking the investigation as out of control, as a mess and kind of alluding to the fact that he's had inside information this entire time. So now we're kind of finding out that that is true and that that information's being used to kind of undermine the investigation.

GREENE: Wow. So it's possible that Manafort was almost acting like someone on the inside, telling the White House exactly what the special counsel investigation was looking like, which gave Trump, like, an advantage to sort of do the message campaign.

DAY: Well, I mean, I wouldn't go that far about it, you know, kind of as if it was a mole or something like that. But I would say that this has given them an advantage to be able to know that. But it's not an advantage that they haven't had the entire time. There are all of these other defendants and like - or, you know, other witnesses that are in that case that have also been sharing information. And so the president's legal team does have a really good idea of where Mueller is headed based upon all of the witnesses who have shared information in this. But it is very unusual for someone who is cooperating and pleaded guilty to still be kind of doing that.

GREENE: OK. So we have this news that you report from Giuliani, that there was this arrangement. We also have the special counsel's office coming out and saying that Manafort has been lying to his office. It looks like the plea deal is now falling apart for that reason. Could all this be connected somehow?

DAY: Yeah. It's - you know, it's entirely possible. You know, we still don't know a lot about what Manafort specifically lied about, but we will know that soon, whenever the government has to file a new court filing laying out all of the details. And they promise to do that. But, you know, it's also part - this kind of speaks to the trust between someone who is a cooperator and someone who - and the prosecutors who are investigating this case. And so, you know, if the prosecutors think that everything that they tell you you're going to go and tell other people in the case, that breaks down that trust. And so I could see where if there was already some, you know, shakier ground here with this relationship, that these lies would have - you know, that the prosecution says occurred would have been kind of the final straw.

GREENE: I don't know if there's any way to know this, but one theory that has been out there is that Manafort might have been providing information to Trump's lawyers because he's hoping for a pardon. Is that something you know anything about in your reporting?

DAY: I think that there's some evidence to support that theory. You know, we do know that earlier when Manafort was convicted of eight felony counts in Virginia, after his trial - that the president and his lawyers did discuss, you know, what the political fallout would be if there was a pardon. And we also know that the president has been very sympathetic to Manafort's cause. He sees him being treated very unfairly by what he sees as a witch hunt. And so, you know, this could be - you know, Manafort's already facing some considerable prison time. And he is 69 years old. And so this could be the play that he's making, saying, you know, I'm going to try to provide this information to make sure that I could possibly get a pardon later on.

GREENE: And as if there wasn't enough to cover, we have this Guardian report from the U.K. suggesting that Manafort met with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who's been mentioned as a big name in the whole Russia investigation. What can you tell us about that?

DAY: So I did see that report. You know, we haven't confirmed that reporting yet. And I will note that Manafort has kind of unequivocally denied that report. So we're still learning a little bit more about that meeting and trying to report it out.

GREENE: OK. Chad Day of the Associated Press, thank you for all of your reporting. And thanks for coming in and talking to us about it.

DAY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.