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Manafort, Gates appear in court

Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort leaves his home in Alexandria, Va. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Paul Manafort and Rick Gates will appear at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson at the D.C. federal courthouse, per the Special Counsel's office. Manafort is reportedly surrendering in Special Counsel Bob Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, facing charges including conspiracy against the U.S. and tax fraud.

Be smart: Manafort's charges don't include Russian collusion — in fact, all of the charges he's facing come from before his Trump campaign days — but it's a legal development that makes Trump's claim of a "witch hunt" harder to believe. Mueller is likely trying to use these charges to leverage Manafort to reveal information about the Trump campaign, which could lead to future indictments.

Although the charges against Manafort don't appear to relate to Russian interference in the presidential election, Mueller has been given authority to investigate other allegations that "arise" from that investigation.

What's next:

  • Manafort is likely to plead "not guilty," according to former deputy secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Paul Rosenzweig.
  • Then it will go quiet until Manafort's trial, which would be at least six months from now, even with the fastest docketing.
  • Behind the scenes, Manafort's lawyers and Mueller's lawyers will be doing a lot of talking and bargaining, figuring out what Manafort can say and what he's willing to say. This is where Mueller can offer Manafort a sentencing deal in exchange for providing information on the Trump campaign's dealings with Russia.
  • Manafort's fate lies in how much evidence he has and how useful it can be to Mueller's probe.

Why now: Lawyers will try to offer information on behalf of their client before an indictment. While little is known, and much is left to speculation, Rosenzweig gave Axios three hypothetical reasons for the timing of Manafort's surrender.

  1. Manafort's lawyers don't think he has good enough information to get him out of a longer sentence.
  2. Manafort might not believe he'll actually have to pay for his actions.
  3. There's always the slim chance that Manafort is banking on Trump pardoning him, as the President has already shown an interest in his power to pardon.
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