Paul Manafort pleads guilty after reaching 'cooperation agreement' with special counsel

Paul Manafort pleads guilty after reaching 'cooperation agreement' with special counsel

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has pleaded guilty to two federal charges as part of a cooperation deal with prosecutors.

What is unclear is whether he will cooperate with prosecutors as they investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, and potential collusion by members of Trump's campaign.

A Virginia jury convicted Manafort last month on bank and tax fraud charges.

That case alleged that Manafort directed a large-scale US lobbying operation for Ukrainian interests but never registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent despite being required to do so under the law, and that he concealed millions of dollars in income for the consulting work from the IRS.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now representing Mr Trump in the Russian Federation probe, said on Friday before the hearing that a guilty plea would not crush Manafort's chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon.

Manafort is expected to appear in court later Friday morning.

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Paul Manafort, who was recently found guilty of eight felonies, entered a guilty plea in a D.C. court, staving off a new trial and likely igniting hell from Trump's Twitter fingers.

That includes Manafort's former deputy, Rick Gates, who testified against Manafort in Virginia.

The plea deal would allow Manafort to avoid a second trial that had been scheduled to start next week in Washington. Manafort is the first Trump associate to flip who was inside the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives.

In recent days, as the Manafort plea talks were ongoing, the President's legal team expressed confidence that if Manafort signed a cooperation agreement it wouldn't have anything to do with the President, according to a source briefed on their thinking. Manafort faces up to a decade in prison after the Virginia jury verdict, and a conviction in Washington could have increased his prison time.

Manafort is set for a status hearing Friday amid reports that President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman was nearing a plea deal to avoid trial on charges stemming from work he did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. Any deal would not be final until Manafort admits guilt before the judge, who would need to approve the plea.

Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to court documents (pdf) filed in the District of Columbia.

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Paul Manafort's plea agreement is a monstrously one-sided deal in favor of the government. The investigation has exposed the inner workings of the Russian influence campaign against American elections, a detailed and elaborate scheme by Manafort and Gates to hide money made through foreign lobbying work from the US government and multiple instances of people later lying to investigators about their behavior. Trump has not said whether he would pardon Manafort, but the president has not publicly ruled it out.

Manafort agreed to plead to conspiracy against the USA and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses.

Manafort began his work as a lobbyist and political consultant for Yanukovych in 2004 upon the advice of Deripaska.

Given his direct involvement in the Trump campaign, including episodes being scrutinized by Mueller, Manafort could be positioned to provide key insight for investigators working to establish whether the campaign coordinated with Russian Federation.

Manafort, 69, was a key figure in Mr Trump's inner circle, but the president has since sought to distance himself from his former adviser.

Prosecutors will drop the five remaining charges in DC federal court against Manafort, including money laundering, tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, violating federal foreign lobbying law and lying to the Department of Justice.

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