‘I’m guilty’: Manafort deal puts pressure on Trump
Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, has agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election as part of a plea deal – a largely unexpected move that could place the president in legal peril.
The development was announced yesterday morning at a court hearing in Washington DC, where Manafort admitted two criminal charges to avoid a second trial. “I’m guilty,” he said.
The deal raised the possibility that Manafort, a veteran Republican operative, could give investigators information about Trump. In a statement, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said: “The president did nothing wrong.”
Along with his agreement to cooperate, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice in return for other charges being dropped. Mueller’s team indicated that Manafort would receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Last month Manafort, 69, was convicted of eight counts in a fraud case brought in Virginia by Mueller, the special counsel. A further 10 charges, on which the jury was deadlocked, will be dropped as part of the deal.
The agreement brings an end to weeks of negotiations between Manafort’s lawyers and Mueller’s team. Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Manafort had agreed to hand over documents and testify in other cases in addition to being interviewed by Mueller’s team.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Kevin Downing, one of Manafort’s attorneys, said: “Mr Manafort has accepted responsibility and he wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”
Manafort’s conspiracy to defraud involved money laundering, tax fraud, failing register as a foreign agent and lying to the Justice Department, a court filing said. He also allegedly conspired to obstruct justice by tampering with a witness.
Manafort also agreed to forfeit homes in Virginia and New York – including an apartment in Trump Tower – and funds from several bank accounts.
Yesterday he seemed a faded caricature of the hard-charging power broker who worked for corrupt dictators including the Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.
Before joining Trump’s campaign, Manafort worked extensively for pro-Kremlin politicians and oligarchs in Ukraine. Prosecutors said the work generated more than $60m in income and that Manafort laundered this through shell companies and offshore accounts to avoid paying US taxes. He also lied about the nature of the work when confronted by the Justice Department in 2016, Mueller said.
Mueller’s team has been investigating whether his connections are linked to US intelligence agencies’ finding that Russia worked to boost Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. Mueller alleges that Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian consultant who worked for Manafort, has ties to Russia’s intelligence services.
Yesterday Mueller’s team disclosed new details about Manafort’s work as an unregistered lobbyist in the US for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president deposed in February 2014.
Manafort allegedly orchestrated a plan to smear a Yanukovych rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, by disseminating “with no fingerprints” allegations that she had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official. “My goal is to plant some stink on Tymo,” Manafort wrote.
He also allegedly conspired with an Israeli official to spread allegations linking Tymoshenko to antisemitism.
Paul Manafort will cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation