Manafort pleads guilty, will co­op­er­ate with spe­cial coun­sel

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker, Chad Day and Michael Balsamo

WASHINGTON » Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort agreed Fri­day to co­op­er­ate with the spe­cial coun­sel’s Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion as he pleaded guilty to fed­eral crimes and avoided a sec­ond trial that could have ex­posed him to more time in prison.

The deal gives spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller a key co­op­er­a­tor who steered the Trump elec­tion ef­fort for a piv­otal stretch of 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 it to a close.

It is un­clear what in­for­ma­tion Manafort is pre­pared to of­fer in­ves­ti­ga­tors about the pres­i­dent or that could aid Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. But his in­volve­ment in key episodes un­der scru­tiny, and his lead­er­ship of the cam­paign at a time when pros­e­cu­tors say Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence was work­ing to sway the elec­tion, may make him an es­pe­cially valu­able wit­ness.

The agree­ment makes Manafort the lat­est as­so­ciate of Trump, a pres­i­dent known to place a premium on loy­alty among sub­or­di­nates, to ad­mit guilt and work with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in hopes of le­niency.

Manafort had long re­sisted the idea of co­op­er­at­ing even as pros­e­cu­tors stacked ad­di­tional charges against him in Washington and Vir­ginia. Trump had saluted that stance, pub­licly prais­ing him and sug­gest­ing Manafort had been treated worse than gang­ster Al Capone. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Gi­u­liani, had sug­gested a par­don might be a pos­si­bil­ity after the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­cluded.

Then came Fri­day’s ex­tra­or­di­nary de­vel­op­ment when Manafort agreed to pro­vide any in­for­ma­tion asked of him, tes­tify when­ever asked and even work un­der­cover if nec­es­sary.

Mueller has al­ready se­cured co­op­er­a­tion 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. Trump’s for­mer per­sonal lawyer has sep­a­rately pleaded guilty in New York.

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

He was con­victed last month of eight fi­nan­cial crimes in a sep­a­rate trial in Vir­ginia and faces an es­ti­mated seven to 10 years in prison in that case. The two con­spir­acy counts he ad­mit­ted to on Fri­day each carry up to five years, though Manafort’s sen­tence will ul­ti­mately de­pend on his co­op­er­a­tion.

“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,” Manafort at­tor­ney Kevin Down­ing said out­side court.

The agree­ment doesn’t spec­ify what if any­thing pros­e­cu­tors hope to re­ceive about Trump, but Manafort could be well-po­si­tioned to pro­vide key in­sight for in­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing to es­tab­lish whether the cam­paign co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia.

He was among the par­tic­i­pants, for in­stance, in a June 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing with Rus­sians and Trump’s old­est son and son-in-law that was ar­ranged for the cam­paign to re­ceive deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

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 cam­paign, emails show Manafort dis­cussed pro­vid­ing pri­vate brief­ings for a wealthy Rus­sian busi­ness­man close to Putin.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders in­sisted the Manafort case was un­re­lated to Trump, and Gi­u­liani said, “Once again an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has con­cluded with a plea hav­ing noth­ing to do with Pres­i­dent Trump or the Trump cam­paign.”

It’s un­clear how the deal might af­fect any Manafort pur­suit of a par­don from Trump, though Gi­u­liani told Politico be­fore the deal that a plea with­out a co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment wouldn’t fore­close the pos­si­bil­ity of a par­don.

Un­der the terms of the deal, Manafort was al­lowed to plead guilty to just two counts, though the crimes he ad­mit­ted largely over­lap with the con­duct al­leged in an in­dict­ment last year. He aban­doned his right to ap­peal his sen­tences in Washington and Vir­ginia and agreed to for­feit homes in New York, in­clud­ing a condo in Trump Tower.

But the guilty plea also spares Manafort the cost of a week­s­long trial that could have added years to the prison time he’s al­ready fac­ing fol­low­ing the Vir­ginia guilty ver­dicts. A jury there found him guilty of fil­ing false tax re­turns, fail­ing to re­port for­eign bank ac­counts and bank fraud. Ju­rors dead­locked on 10 other counts.


In this file photo, Paul Manafort, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, leaves the fed­eral court­house in Washington.

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