Manafort pleads guilty, will co-op­er­ate with spe­cial coun­sel

Waterloo Region Record - - Canada & World - ERIC TUCKER, CHAD DAY AND MICHAEL BALSAMO

WASHINGTON — For­mer Trump cam­paign chair Paul Manafort agreed Fri­day to co-op­er­ate with the spe­cial coun­sel’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion as he pleaded guilty to fed­eral charges and avoided a sec­ond trial that could have ex­posed him to even greater pun­ish­ment.

The deal gives spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller a key co-op­er­a­tor who led the Trump elec­tion ef­fort for a cru­cial stretch dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The re­sult also en­sures the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will ex­tend far beyond the Novem­ber con­gres­sional elec­tions de­spite en­treaties from the pres­i­dent’s lawyers that Mueller bring his probe to a close.

It is un­clear what in­for­ma­tion Manafort is pre­pared to pro­vide to in­ves­ti­ga­tors about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or that could aid Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But the plea nonethe­less makes Manafort the lat­est as­so­ciate of Trump, a pres­i­dent known to place a premium on loy­alty among sub­or­di­nates, to ad­mit guilt and co-op­er­ate with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in hopes of le­niency.

In the past year, Mueller has se­cured pleas from a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser who lied to the FBI about dis­cussing sanc­tions with a Rus­sian am­bas­sador, a cam­paign aide who broached the idea of a meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin; and an­other aide who was in­dicted along­side Manafort but ul­ti­mately turned on him.

Fri­day’s deal, to charges tied to Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing work but un­re­lated to the cam­paign, was struck just days be­fore Manafort was to have stood trial for a sec­ond time.

He was con­victed last month of eight fi­nan­cial crimes in a sep­a­rate trial in Vir­ginia and faces seven to 10 years in prison in that case. The two con­spir­acy counts he pleaded guilty to on Fri­day carry up to five years in prison, though Manafort’s sen­tence will de­pend on his co-op­er­a­tion.

He smiled as he en­tered the court­room Fri­day but gave terse and barely au­di­ble an­swers dur­ing ques­tion­ing from the judge.

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

The co-op­er­a­tion deal re­quires Manafort to pro­vide what­ever in­for­ma­tion the gov­ern­ment asks of him, though it does not spec­ify what if any­thing pros­e­cu­tors hope to re­ceive about Trump.

Given his direct in­volve­ment in the Trump cam­paign, in­clud­ing episodes be­ing scru­ti­nized by Mueller, Manafort could be po­si­tioned to pro­vide key in­sight for in­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing to es­tab­lish whether the cam­paign co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia.

Manafort was among the par­tic­i­pants, for in­stance, in a June 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing with Rus­sians and the pres­i­dent’s old­est son and son-in-law that was ar­ranged so the cam­paign could re­ceive deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. A grand jury used by Mueller has heard tes­ti­mony about the meet­ing.

He was also a close busi­ness as­so­ciate of a man who U.S. in­tel­li­gence be­lieves has ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence. And while he was work­ing on the Trump cam­paign, emails show Manafort dis­cussed pro­vid­ing pri­vate brief­ings for a wealthy Rus­sian close to Vladimir Putin.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders in­sisted the Manafort case was un­re­lated to Trump. “This had ... noth­ing to do with the pres­i­dent or his vic­to­ri­ous 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. It is to­tally un­re­lated.”

Added Trump lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani: “Once again an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has con­cluded with a plea hav­ing noth­ing to do with Pres­i­dent Trump or the Trump cam­paign.”

Un­der the terms of the deal, Manafort was al­lowed to plead guilty to just two con­spir­acy counts, though the crimes he ad­mit­ted cover the same con­duct al­leged in an in­dict­ment last year. Manafort’s homes in New York City, in the Hamp­tons and in Vir­ginia, as well as money from his bank ac­counts and life in­surance poli­cies may be seized by the gov­ern­ment.


Paul Manafort, cen­tre, be­fore U.S. Dis­trict Judge Amy Ber­man Jack­son, seated at right, at fed­eral court in Washington on Fri­day.

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