Sputnik talked about Paul Manafort's trial and his plea deal with Christopher Slobogin, a professor of criminal law at Vanderbilt Law School.
Sputnik: So in your view, will Manafort's guilty plea help him avoid a prison sentence?
Christopher Slobogin: He'll still go to prison, just for a much shorter period of time than he otherwise would have had he not pleaded guilty. The ten year maximum, that you mentioned, is much shorter than the maximum he could've received if he had gone to trial and been convicted, and if he cooperates and behaves in prison the time served will be much shorter than ten years.
Sputnik: Why has he agreed to this plea bargain deal? Could this potentially be damaging for Donald Trump?
Christopher Slobogin: Well, he says he took the deal to protect his family, avoid having to go through the agony of trial, but it's obvious he also took the deal because he was facing something close to a sentence of life imprisonment. On your second question, whether his cooperation is going to damage President Trump, it all depends on what Manafort knows and is willing to talk about. He presumably can tell us what happened at the meeting at the Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr and the Russian official; he may be able to talk about other possibly illegal aspects of the Trump campaign, since he headed up the Trump campaign for several months. But we simply don't know, we just don't know what he knows.
Sputnik: We also know that President Trump has got the power to pardon Manafort if he decides to. If Manafort is sentenced to a lengthy prison term, do you think it's something that President Trump could possibly think of doing before leaving office?
Christopher Slobogin: He certainly has the power to pardon Manafort for any federal crimes, but I doubt he would exercise it, at least in the near term, at least until the Mueller investigation is over. Because if he did do that, it would probably nullify the cooperation agreement and so the pardon could be interpreted as obstruction of justice, because it damages Mueller's ability to continue the investigation. So if he does pardon Manafort, it would be after the Mueller investigation and, as you say, maybe towards the end of his term, yes, after the investigation is done.
Sputnik: Manafort's guilty plea is being seen as a victory for Robert Mueller and his special counsel; how is the American public taking this particular plea from Manafort?
Christopher Slobogin: For one thing, because of the gigantic storm going on in the United States, this plea has not received as much press as it might've otherwise, because the public has been distracted with [Hurricane] Florence. But I think most people realize that with this plea, if they didn't already know this, that this investigation is not a wild goose chase, it's not, as President Trump puts it, a "witch hunt." At the same time, it doesn't mean that there was collusion with Russia or that Trump or someone else in his circle obstructed justice. But again, we'll just have to wait and see. Mueller is working his way up the chain, how far he gets up the chain remains to be seen.
Sputnik: It was reported that 2/3 of Americans would prefer the Special Counsel to wrap up the investigation before the November midterm elections. Do you think this could happen? How much support is in this desire to end this particular investigation before then?
Christopher Slobogin: Yes, I think everybody would like to see it end, but I don't think there's any way the investigation will end before the election. Mueller still needs to get what he can out of Manafort, I presume he's got other targets, perhaps, even President Trump. I think Mueller is proceeding like any good prosecutor should — slowly building his case, if he hurries too much, he could overlook an important fact or witnesses who could help with that. I think it should finish sometime next year and I guess that's what the public is going to have to put up with.
Sputnik: What's your take on the current situation that President Trump finds himself in? He's been the most vilified president in living memory. Is he going to be potentially damaged by the House being ruled by the Democratic Party? Do you see that happening or is it going to be one of those situations where nobody can really predict, where it's going to end in terms of whether the Democrats will take over? Will he retain power, do you think?
Christopher Slobogin: It's very hard to predict any of that. If the Democrats win the House, you can be sure there will be numerous investigations that aren't going on now. So at the least, it will create a lot of stress for President Trump. What all that results in depends on what happens. It's possible that there is nothing with respect to collusion with Russia; perhaps there are other illegal activities that took place. We will just have to wait and see. You can be sure, though, that if the Democrats take control of the House in November, there'll be much more activity in terms of investigating Trump.
Sputnik: Obviously you're a professor of criminal law at Vanderbilt [Law School], what's your take on the impeachment question? There's a lot of discussion about nervousness over the Democrats taking power in the Senate and the House. Do you think that if they do have control, that there's a good possibility of him being impeached?
Christopher Slobogin: That depends on what we find. If it turns out, for instance, that there was, to use a phrase that's been used a lot, "collusion with Russia" that violates campaign laws. If it turns out that he has lied or covered up facts that are relevant to his either connection with Russia or his business dealings around the world that somehow involved corruption, I think the Democrats will see that as being a solid case for impeachment, so that could move forward. But the Democrats have to tread very carefully. If they don't have a solid case, if it isn't pretty clear that there're major illegalities committed by Trump and his campaign, then that will not only agitate his base, but also make the Democrats look like they're trying to make something out of nothing and hat could hurt them. So they need to tread very carefully, I think, in terms of impeachment.
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