Manafort pleads guilty to con­spir­acy

Former Trump cam­paign chair to co-op­er­ate in Rus­sia probe

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Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s team se­cured a dra­matic vic­tory as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s former cam­paign chair­man pleaded guilty to con­spir­ing against the U.S. and agreed to co­op­er­ate in their in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

Paul Manafort ad­mit­ted Fri­day to a decade of crimes re­lated to his work as a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant for pro-Rus­sia politi­cians in Ukraine. He’s also help­ing Mueller de­ter­mine whether any­one in Trump’s cam­paign co-or­di­nated with Rus­sian ef­forts to in­flu­ence U.S. vot­ers. Last month, Manafort was con­victed in a Vir­ginia fed­eral court of tax and bank fraud.

Manafort, 69, sat with his head bowed in fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton as U.S. pros­e­cu­tor An­drew Weiss­mann spent 33 min­utes de­tail­ing two con­spir­acy charges. Manafort said he laun­dered more than US$30 mil­lion, cheated the U.S. of US$15 mil­lion in taxes and failed to tell U.S. au­thor­i­ties about a se­cret lob­by­ing cam­paign on be­half of Ukraine that reached into the Oval Of­fice.

Manafort set out to help his client, Ukrainian pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, by tar­nish­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of Yanukovych’s po­lit­i­cal ri­val, Yu­lia Ty­moshenko.

Manafort also ad­mit­ted try­ing to tam­per with wit­nesses, join­ing with a long­time as­so­ci­ate who pros­e­cu­tors said has ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

While none of the charges re­lates to his work for the pres­i­dent — he was Trump’s cam­paign chair­man for sev­eral months — his links to Rus­sian and Ukrainian oli­garchs are of in­tense in­ter­est to Mueller’s pros­e­cu­tors.

Mueller has se­cured guilty pleas and co-op­er­a­tion from sev­eral other Trump aides, in­clud­ing his former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, and Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates.

Manafort agreed to brief pros­e­cu­tors, pro­duce doc­u­ments and tes­tify if asked. Af­ter the judge asked if Manafort un­der­stood that he must co-op­er­ate “fully and truth­fully,” Manafort replied: “I do.”

Manafort will for­feit sev­eral New York prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing a Trump Tower apart­ment and a sprawl­ing es­tate in Bridge­hamp­ton, New York, along with other as­sets that fed a lav­ish life­style filled with cus­tom suits and lux­ury cars. He gave up his right to ap­peal his con­vic­tion on eight counts last month in Vir­ginia. In turn, pros­e­cu­tors will drop 10 counts that led ju­rors to dead­lock and the judge to de­clare a mis­trial.

In re­turn, he’ll avoid at least hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in le­gal bills and the prospect of ad­di­tional charges, while po­ten­tially liv­ing as a free man in just a few years. Manafort won’t be sen­tenced un­til af­ter his co­op­er­a­tion is com­plete, and only then will pros­e­cu­tors dis­miss the re­main­ing charges against him in Vir­ginia.

“Tough day for Mr. Manafort,” his lawyer, Kevin Down­ing, said out­side the court­house. “He’s ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity, and he wanted to make sure that his fam­ily was able to re­main safe and live a good life. This is for con­duct that dates back many years and everybody should re­mem­ber that.”

Pros­e­cu­tors will ask Manafort about his months run­ning Trump’s cam­paign. In June 2016, he at­tended the meet­ing at Trump Tower in which Krem­lin-backed at­ten­dees promised to of­fer dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Trump’s 2016 op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton. Trump’s el­dest son, Don­ald Jr., and his sonin-law, Jared Kush­ner, also at­tended the meet­ing.

The White House, which has re­peat­edly played down Manafort’s role on the cam­paign, dis­tanced Trump from his former aide. “This had ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the pres­i­dent or his vic­to­ri­ous 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. It is to­tally un­re­lated,” said Sarah San­ders, the White House press sec­re­tary.

The pres­i­dent’s lawyer, Rudy Gi­u­liani, said “once again an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has con­cluded with a plea hav­ing noth­ing to do with Pres­i­dent Trump or the Trump cam­paign. The rea­son: the pres­i­dent did noth­ing wrong.”

The pres­i­dent had pre­vi­ously praised Manafort for not co-oper­at­ing in the face of fi­nan­cial and le­gal pres­sures. Af­ter Manafort’s con­vic­tion in Au­gust, Trump tweeted that he felt “very badly” for him and ap­plauded his stead­fast­ness.

Trump tweeted that Manafort had re­sisted “tremen­dous pres­sure,” and un­like the pres­i­dent’s former per­sonal at­tor­ney, Michael Co­hen, he “re­fused to ‘break’ — make up sto­ries in or­der to get a ‘deal.’” Co­hen, Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, ad­mit­ted fi­nan­cial crimes and is help­ing fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in New York in a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Manafort’s de­ci­sion to flip came just days be­fore jury se­lec­tion was set to be­gin in Wash­ing­ton. He faces as long as a decade in prison af­ter the Vir­ginia jury ver­dict, and an ad­di­tional 10 years on the two con­spir­acy counts he ad­mit­ted on Fri­day. If Mueller is sat­is­fied with Manafort’s co-op­er­a­tion, he can rec­om­mend le­niency to both judges.

Ear­lier this year, Manafort de­rided Gates, his former business part­ner, for strik­ing a deal with pros­e­cu­tors that pro­vided him le­niency in ex­change for tes­ti­mony against his former part­ner.

“I had hoped and ex­pected my business col­league would have had the strength to con­tinue the battle to prove our in­no­cence,” Manafort said in Fe­bru­ary.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Ear­lier this year, Paul Manafort de­rided a former business part­ner for mak­ing deals with pros­e­cu­tors.

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