President Donald Trump has a joint defense agreement with former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. This agreement is presumably related to all aspects of the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The president’s lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the agreement and said that President Trump’s team was regularly in contact with Manafort’s own attorneys. On Thursday, Giuliani also confirmed that the arrangement allowed both sides to share confidential information with one another. In comments to Politico, Giuliani said:
All during the investigation we have an open communication with them. Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time where as long as our clients authorize it therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.
Specifically, Giuliani noted that he had spoken with Manafort’s lead defense attorney Kevin Downing just before and just after the long-deliberated verdicts were delivered in Manafort’s Eastern District of Virginia trial held during the month of August.
Giulani clarified the ethical issues involved in such an information-sharing arrangement, saying, “It’d all be attorney-client privilege not just from our point of view but from theirs.”
What exactly is a joint defense agreement? The American Bar Association’s Lee Ziffer described the function and utility of joint defense agreements in an explainer for the group.
“They allow defendants to share information with other defense counsel without relative fear of waiving work product or attorney-client privileges,” he Ziffer said. “They allow development of a unified defense strategy to defend a claim and to avoid duplicative work. It allows defendants to divide the issues and conquer. One defendant can handle expert issues; another defendant can handle discovery issues, motions in limine and so forth.”
Trump and his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen were once part of such an agreement together but that all ended when Cohen switched out his attorneys during his federal criminal investigation. Trump also, at one time, had a joint defense agreement with Michael Flynn, who famously flipped on the president.
National security journalist Marcy Wheeler made the case for Manafort being included in the president’s collection of joint defense agreements in June of this year. She wrote:
Trump was bragging, back in January, that he had “decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to ‘flip’ and sell him out, friends and aides say.” That’s the kind of thing Trump might have assurance about if Manafort were part of a joint defense agreement…
Her supposition now appears to have been correct.
For what it’s worth, though, Giuliani is signaling that Trump has nothing to worry about from Manafort.
“From our perspective we want him to do the right thing for himself,” he said. “There’s no fear that Paul Manafort would cooperate against the president because there’s nothing to cooperate about and we long ago evaluated him as an honorable man.”
[image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images]