Manafort pleads guilty to conspiracy
Former Trump campaign chair to co-operate in Russia probe
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.
Earlier this year, Paul Manafort derided a former business partner for making deals with prosecutors.