RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump, is preparing to plead guilty in a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., today. The plea would allow him to avoid his next trial which is scheduled to start Monday. This go around, Manafort is accused of money laundering and of failing to register as a foreign agent. Last month he was convicted of bank and tax fraud charges. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson's been following the case and is joining us now to talk more about this. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, there.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about this plea deal?
JOHNSON: Well, we know that there's a final pretrial conference scheduled for this morning. Jury selection in this case is due to start Monday. So if you want to call this whole thing off, now is the time to do it...
JOHNSON: ...Kind of now. We don't know if this plea means Paul Manafort will cooperate and help the special counsel build a case against anyone else. And remember, Paul Manafort has been reluctant to cooperate. That's been a sticking point in the past.
JOHNSON: And President Trump has been praising Paul Manafort on Twitter as a good man who won't break and flip on him. In fact, Manafort's legal team seems to have a joint defense agreement with the Trump legal team, which means they're keeping each other in the loop about developments.
MARTIN: But if - so you say this doesn't necessarily mean Manafort's going to cooperate with Robert Mueller and the special counsel. But if he's not going to cooperate, why plead now? Why not just, you know, roll the dice with the jury?
JOHNSON: Paul Manafort has racked up some big legal bills from that other trial in Virginia. He's short on cash already, and it also may help the Trump administration in a way to keep a lot of bad headlines about Manafort's dealings in Ukraine, with a pro-Russia government there, out of the headlines in the United States in advance of the November midterm elections. That could be a net win for this White House and for Republicans in Congress who are struggling (laughter) in this environment. It could also help set up an eventual pardon or a commutation for Paul Manafort.
We know President Trump and his lawyers have talked about that idea, but his lawyers are cautioning the president to wait a while longer before he gives any clemency to Paul Manafort. As for the prosecution, Rachel, remember, these are busy people. They are moving quickly to try to advance this investigation. They may want to basically dismiss this Manafort case, get a result and move on to look at other parts of the investigation.
MARTIN: Huh, that's really interesting. So the - Manafort and his attorneys could be working out some kind of agreement that would, in essence, benefit President Trump and the Republicans in hope of getting some kind of pardon down the road. So if he pleads guilty today, I mean, does that mean the public is going to - are we going to be able to learn anything about the actual details of the charges against him?
JOHNSON: Yeah. We have not heard much from Paul Manafort since he was jailed this summer on allegations of witness tampering. He will, if he does plead guilty, have to stand up in court today and tell the judge exactly what he did wrong and make a statement about that. So we're going to know a little bit more about his conduct and his state of mind and his demeanor after this court hearing.
MARTIN: All right. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson for us. Thanks so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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