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The Intersection Between Paul Manafort's Sentencing And Mueller's Investigation


Let's talk now about how Manafort's sentencing fits into the broader Russia probe. And for that, we're joined by Peter Zeidenberg here in the studio. He spent years as a federal prosecutor at the Justice Department and is now a defense attorney. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PETER ZEIDENBERG: Happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: The crimes that Manafort has been convicted of are connected to events that all happened before the Trump presidential campaign, before Manafort worked for Trump. So how do these events fit into the bigger picture of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election?

ZEIDENBERG: Well, some of these - some of the conduct occurred while he was on the campaign. So some of it predates - some of it ran all the way into 2018, including an event which I think a lot of people were very interested in hearing the details about, which is when he gave polling information to Konstantin Kilimnik, who's considered to be a Russian spy. So that is at the heart of the Mueller investigation.

SHAPIRO: So you say this is an incident that many people are eager to learn more about, which points to the fact that Mueller may have information that he has not shared with the public. Is it possible that the Manafort story that has been laid out over the course of these trials is not the full Manafort story?

ZEIDENBERG: I don't think it's just - there's any question about that. That's a certainty. I mean, when you look at the sentencing papers that were filed in Manafort's case in Washington, what's striking is not so much what's in them. It's what's redacted. And there would be no reason to be redacting page after page after page if this investigation was wrapped up and if these facts were simply about tax evasion and IRS charges going back 15, 20 years out of his conduct working in the Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: Does that suggest that there could be future charges against Manafort, including perhaps charges related to conduct more directly connected to Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign?

ZEIDENBERG: I doubt very much they're going to bother charging him. Given his age and given the seriousness of the offenses of which he's already been convicted, it's very unlikely they'll find it necessary to go back to the well on Manafort.

SHAPIRO: Interesting. So that's a calculation a prosecutor makes even if somebody appears to have committed a crime - if he's already got a sentence to many years in prison and he's elderly, they might say it's not worth the effort.

ZEIDENBERG: Well, you know, my view is Mueller wants to get answers, and he's got the answers he needs about Manafort. Manafort is over as far as he's concerned.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the possibility of a pardon because President Trump has a record of pardoning his political allies. He has said that Manafort has been treated badly. Could this entire saga be effectively nullified with one signature from President Trump?

ZEIDENBERG: Well, it could as far as Manafort is concerned but not in terms of the Mueller probe because Mueller has the information he wants. And as far as the pardon goes, strategically, it would have made sense if the president wanted to protect himself and others from what Manafort might be sharing, then the time to do that pardon was early on when that would have taken away the leverage that the government had over Manafort. At this point, he would only be doing it as a kindness, and that's not something we've seen a whole lot of as far as I'm concerned from the president. I think he wouldn't be - it wouldn't be in his self-interest in the same way.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, you spent many years as a federal prosecutor, including handling the case of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was one of the people who received a pardon from President Trump. What is it like for a prosecutor to see a pardon offered to a political ally like that?

ZEIDENBERG: You know, that is something that's out of the prosecutor's control. So, you know, as a prosecutor, you do your job. You get the best result. And for things that you can't control, they're out of your hands, and you have to live with the result.

SHAPIRO: Peter Zeidenberg, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.