‘I’m guilty’: Manafort deal puts pres­sure on Trump

The Guardian - - NEWS - Jon Swaine Ben Ja­cobs

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

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