The federal judge who oversaw Paul Manafort’s criminal trial this summer in Virginia threw an obstacle into the former Trump campaign chairman’s plea deal Thursday by calling out as “highly unusual” a plan to seek the dismissal of deadlocked charges only after Manafort has finished cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, reports Politico. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis II ordered Manafort, his lawyers and Mueller’s prosecutors to court on Oct. 19 to resolve the situation and to set a sentencing date for the longtime GOP operative. Ellis’ move doesn’t appear to jeopardize the overall deal with Manafort but has the potential to remove one of several incentives for the former Trump campaign chairman to cooperate.
Under the plea agreement, Manafort avoided a second criminal trial in Washington, D.C., by pleading guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiring to obstruct justice, along with a pledge to “cooperate fully and truthfully” with the special counsel’s probe on Russia and the 2016 presidential election. In exchange, Mueller dropped charges against Manafort related to money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for his work for Ukrainian political parties. Upon Manafort’s “successful cooperation” with Mueller’s team, the special counsel agreed to seek dismissal of 10 charges related to bank fraud on which a Virginia jury failed to reach a verdict in August. Ellis wants to discuss the stipulation to defer sentencing and Mueller’s decision on whether to retry Manafort on the outstanding charges case until after his cooperation is over. “This would be highly unusual,” Ellis wrote. “In this district, the government’s decision to re-try a defendant on deadlocked counts is always made in a timely manner and sentencing occurs within two to no more than four months from entry of a guilty plea or receipt of a jury verdict.”