Manafort pleads guilty ahead of new trial, to cooperate with Mueller
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Manafort pleads guilty ahead of new trial, to cooperate with Mueller

Charges against former Trump campaign chairman include conspiracy against the US and conspiracy to obstruct justice; White House says deal not connected to Trump

This June 15, 2018 file photo shows Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chief, arriving for a hearing at US District Court in Washington, DC. 
Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering, court documents indicated on September 14, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
This June 15, 2018 file photo shows Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chief, arriving for a hearing at US District Court in Washington, DC. Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering, court documents indicated on September 14, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort plead guilty Friday and agreed to cooperate in the special counsel investigation of possible campaign collusion with Russia.

In a plea deal to avert a second trial on money laundering and illegal lobbying charges, Manafort agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and another count of obstruction of justice.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissman said in court Friday that Manafort had struck a “cooperation agreement.” He did not elaborate. Manafort told the judge he wants to plead guilty.

The move comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia increasingly pressures the White House.

It avoids a potentially explosive trial that could embarrass the president and his Republican party during the seven weeks before hotly contested national elections.

A White House spokeswoman quickly sought to distance Trump from the plea deal, saying Manafort’s admission of guilt was “totally unrelated” to Trump.

Manafort was facing a second trial set to begin on Monday on charges related to Ukrainian political consulting work, including failing to register as a foreign agent.

It’s unclear how the possible deal might affect Manafort’s pursuit of a pardon from President Donald Trump. The president has signaled that he’s sympathetic to Manafort’s cause, and in comments to Politico, his attorney-spokesman Rudy Giuliani said a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn’t foreclose the possibility of a pardon.

In this photo taken July 21, 2016, then-Trump Campaign manager Paul Manafort stands between the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump during a walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Manafort has aggressively fought the charges against him and taken shots at his co-defendant, Rick Gates, who cut a deal with prosecutors earlier this year that included a cooperation agreement.

At the time of Gates’ plea, Manafort issued a statement saying he “had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence.” And during his Virginia trial in August, Manafort’s lawyers spent considerable time painting Gates as a liar, embezzler, philanderer and turncoat who would say anything to get a lighter prison sentence.

If he pleads guilty, Manafort would avoid a trial that was expected to last at least three weeks and posed the potential of adding years onto the seven to 10 years he is already facing under federal sentencing guidelines from his conviction in Virginia.

A jury found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.

In the Washington case, prosecutors were set to lay out in great detail Manafort’s political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Prosecutors say that Manafort directed a large-scale lobbying operation in the US for Ukrainian interests without registering with the Justice Department as required by the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. Manafort was accused of concealing from the IRS tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from his Ukrainian patrons and conspiring to launder that money through offshore accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere.

Manafort had denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Even after his indictment last October, though, prosecutors say he continued to commit crimes by tampering with witnesses. The discovery of his witness contacts led to a superseding indictment in June and Manafort’s jailing ahead of his trial.

In addition to the witness tampering counts, Manafort had been formally charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiring to launder money and lying to the FBI and Justice Department about the nature of his work. Court papers filed in the case indicated that he could have faced between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison under federal guidelines.

The charges do not relate to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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