Donald Trump ex-campaign chief Manafort pleads guilty

Former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department, including in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Even though the Manafort case was tangential to the central thrust of Mr Mueller's inquiry - relating to his work as a lobbyist, and not possible ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign - this still marks a significant development in the special counsel's investigation. Mueller has collected folders upon folders of information since he began his investigation and spoken with dozens of witnesses. Wright added that Manafort not only served as Trump's campaign chief through much of 2016, he was also a resident of Trump Tower and has been a Trump associate for decades. Manafort represented pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine before his stint on the Trump campaign. The president's former personal lawyer has separately pleaded guilty in NY.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge Manafort's plea agreement is a "cooperation agreement", and other charges will be dropped at sentencing at "or at the agreement of successful cooperation".

He was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia and faces an estimated seven to 10 years in prison in that case. "He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life".

Trump last month praised Manafort as "a courageous man" for not entering into an agreement with prosecutors while blasting the president's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for doing so. Mueller was authorized to look into matters that arose from the Russian Federation investigation, leading to the charges against Manafort, which are not related to the Trump campaign or to Russian Federation.

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.

In this photo from Manafort's consutling offices, Konstantin Kilimnik, who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence, poses for a photo with Manafort and others. Gates has knowledge of Manafort's offshore bank accounts, his work for Ukraine and his relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders says in a statement, "This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign".

He led the campaign when Trump was selected as the Republican presidential nominee at the party convention. "It is totally unrelated".

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"Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign", he said.

Under the terms of the deal, Manafort was allowed to plead guilty to just two counts, though the crimes he admitted largely overlap with the conduct alleged in an indictment a year ago.

Senator Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said any attempt by Trump to pardon Manafort "would be a gross abuse of power and require immediate action by Congress". In comments to Politico before the plea deal, Giuliani said a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon.

Trump has the power to issue a presidential pardon for Manafort on federal charges.

In an exchange reported by Mediaite, when MSNBC host and political correspondent Steve Kornacki asked Dershowitz Friday if Manafort's cooperation agreement is "something the White House [should] be alarmed about right now", Dershowitz answered emphatically. The judge in the District of Columbia case ordered his detention on June 15 after reviewing evidence (pdf) that Manafort attempted to tamper with witnesses and determining that the defendant could not be trusted to comply with the judicial process.

Pleading guilty to these charges allowed Manafort to make a deal with prosecutors, and avoid adding jail time to the ten years he is already facing for the earlier convictions. A jury there found him guilty of filing false tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Manafort did not contest the other five counts against him.

That case alleged that Manafort directed a large-scale USA 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.

He's also indicted former Manafort business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, now believed to be in Russia, for obstruction of justice and 25 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for interfering in the United States 2016 presidential election.

"I plead guilty", Manafort said.

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