The decision by Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, came as a surprise even to seasoned observers of the Mueller probe who were expecting a guilty plea but not a “flip” by the former aide.
Last month, when Manafort was convicted on eight separate felony charges in Virginia, the president praised him for having “refused to ‘break.’ ”
As of Friday evening, Trump had not directly responded to the news of Manafort’s cooperation. It is improbable that his silence will last long.
Legal observers say the Manafort deal is highly significant, even as the exact nature of his cooperation remains unknown.
“For months now, we have thought Manafort is one of the two or three big witnesses if [Mueller] could crack him, and he couldn’t,” said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney. “Now he’s cracked him like an egg.”
Manafort’s decision comes on top of several other convictions and guilty pleas chalked up by Mueller’s team.