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Criminal Defense Attorney Solomon Wisenberg Discusses Manafort Verdict


On the line now to walk us through what we just heard is criminal defense attorney Solomon Wisenberg. He represents individuals and businesses accused of white-collar crimes. He was also deputy independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations. Welcome.


CHANG: So what did you make of Michael Cohen's plea deal today?

WISENBERG: Well, I think it's pretty significant, particularly the portions of the plea deal that relate to campaign finance violations. Keep in mind that there's no limit on what a presidential candidate himself or herself can contribute to the campaign. You just have to report it properly. Now, I haven't - I've looked at the plea agreement. I haven't looked at the criminal information yet. The problem here is that Cohen obviously conspired with the unnamed candidate for Cohen to make a contribution that was beyond an amount that he was allowed to make.

CHANG: I want to look more closely at those two counts of excessive - making excessive campaign contributions. So Cohen said that he made the contributions in the summer of 2016 and in October of 2016 at the direction of a federal candidate. That's presumed to be Donald Trump. How much of a risk of legal jeopardy could this mean for President Trump at this point?

WISENBERG: Well, as your reporter pointed out, the general consensus is that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

CHANG: But there's some constitutional ambiguity about that, isn't there?

WISENBERG: There is. But there's Department of Justice policy that that says you can't indict a sitting president. And while I don't necessarily agree with that, the Department of Justice is bound by that. Now, once the president leaves office, he can be indicted or she can be indicted for something that they did, assuming the statute of limitations hasn't run. But I think the chances of President Trump being indicted while he's in office are quite slim. And I would also say that this is not the crime of the century. I'm not saying it's not a serious crime and a crime that should concern us because it had to do with hiding important information in violation of campaign finance laws during the campaign. But it is not on a par with, for example, any alleged conspiracy with Russian government officials to hack DNC computers. It's just not comparable.

CHANG: I want to also turn now to Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman. He was found guilty on eight charges of financial fraud. But Judge T.S. Ellis III declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges the jury could not agree upon. What legal options does Manafort have now with respect to those 10 charges?

WISENBERG: The charges he was convicted on?

CHANG: No, the 10 charges that there was a mistrial on.

WISENBERG: Oh, well, those are completely irrelevant. They're not going to be - the government's not going to retry that - those charges. They don't need to because under the sentencing guidelines, various things - he faces so much criminal exposure, there's no point in the government indicting him for those dismissed counts.

CHANG: You mean you don't think the government would bother to bring the charges up again.

WISENBERG: Never going to happen, never going to happen.

CHANG: Especially since he's facing another trial next month.

WISENBERG: Right. But beyond that, he faces significant potential sentence under the guidelines. The real question here is, you know, what is he going to do? Does he have something with which he can cooperate? And does he now make the decision that he's going to cooperate with Bob Mueller? That's really it. And Mueller has an option at some point - it's too soon right now, but once Manafort is sentenced, Mueller has the option of actually immunizing him, like our office did with Susan McDougal, and forcing immunity on him and bringing him in and saying, you will now tell us what you know about any potential or alleged collusion. And then he'll have a decision to make. Do I cooperate, or do I go to jail like Susan McDougal?

CHANG: And remind us briefly, who is Susan McDougal?

WISENBERG: She was a former business partner of President Clinton who was convicted. And we immunized her, and she refused to testify.

CHANG: All right. That's criminal defense attorney Solomon Wisenberg. Thank you very much.

WISENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.