Paul Manafort, President Trump’s ex-campaign manager, arrived in court from his luxury condo on Friday morning with a confident swing in his step, even a faint grin.
By the time he left, through a different door, escorted to jail where he’ll remain through the end of his trial, his face had noticeably darkened.
That difference could alter the entire course of his case, legal experts said: The fact that he’ll face trial while incarcerated makes him far more likely to cooperate with investigators, according to former federal prosecutors and other observers who spoke to VICE News.
“If he’s convicted, he will die in jail,” Paul Rosenzweig, a senior counsel for the Ken Starr investigation into former President Bill Clinton, told VICE News. “He’s now going to come under much greater pressure to do something to immediately ameliorate his problem, and the only thing he can do is plead guilty and offer to cooperate.”
Manafort is facing a stack of charges related to alleged financial crimes and other misconduct that could put him in jail for over a century. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether President Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia during the 2016 election, appears to be pressing Manafort to tell what he knows about the Trump campaign’s activities, legal experts said. In exchange, Mueller could offer manafort a reduced sentence.
“His cushy lifestyle will evaporate almost immediately”
The dismal conditions inside Northern Neck Regional Jail will likely make the option to strike a deal with Mueller all the more appealing. Prison life will be a shock for a man used to wearing designer suits and traveling in Gulfstream jets, people with first-hand familiarity with life inside the facility, including a former inmate, told VICE News.
“His cushy lifestyle will evaporate almost immediately,” said Jens David Ohlin, Cornell Law Vice Dean and an expert in international criminal law. “That’s a rude awakening. It’s possible that a few weeks of this might really cause him to reevaluate his position and whether he wants to cooperate.”
Welcome to ‘The Green Roof Inn’
Manafort’s new home for the duration of his trial is a squat, green-roofed building in a small town called Warsaw, VA. The jail is known by locals as “The Green Roof Inn,” according to people familiar with life inside the facility.
At 8:22pm last Friday, Manafort was booked as prisoner 00045343 and assigned one visitation hour per week on Fridays starting at 2:15 pm, according to court records.
At Northern Neck, prisoners sleep on mattresses thin and hard as strips of cardboard without a pillow, according to a former inmate named Michael, who asked that only his first name be used.
“The food you get served is the lowest in nutritional value on the face of the earth”
“His first complaint is going to be the food,” Michael, who spent over a year in Northern Neck, told VICE News. “The food you get served is the lowest in nutritional value on the face of the earth. When I got out my hair was different, my nails were different. My teeth had started to deteriorate.”
Michael said that Manafort’s official VIP designation inside Northern Neck, according to jail documents, really means he’ll be held alone in a small, dorm-room sized cell about 5 feet wide and 12 feet long, with his own television and bathroom. He’ll be in almost complete isolation except for interactions with the guards, and given the same food as everyone else, but in double portions, Michael said.
Manafort may get the same VIP cell that held former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who served part of his 23-month dogfighting sentence inside Northern Neck.
Such conditions aren’t likely to sit well for Manafort, a man who spent $520,000 over four years at one clothing store in Beverly Hills, according to court papers.
Despite his harsh new living conditions, Manafort may hold out for on another possible route to freedom most defendants don’t have: Winning a presidential pardon from Trump.
Over the weekend, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, publicly dangled the possibility of pardons for those swept up in the Russia investigation in a series of interviews with multiple outlets, including the New York Daily News.
“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” Giuliani said.
The prospect of a pardon may have been driving Manafort’s resistance to striking a deal with Mueller, and may help him hang tough through his prison time, observers said.
“If he wasn’t going to get a pardon, the right move would have been to cooperate very early on,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor based in Chicago.
Even in Giuliani’s statement, there was the suggestion Manafort would have to wait until the legal drama is “over.”
And at 69 years old, Manafort may not relish the prospect of waiting, potentially, until the last day of a second Trump presidential term.
Cover image: Paul Manafort, right, arrives at federal court accompanied by his lawyer Kevin Downing, left, and wife Kathleen Manafort, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)