Published: Sat, September 15, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Manafort to plead guilty, cooperate with Mueller probe, prosecutors say

Manafort to plead guilty, cooperate with Mueller probe, prosecutors say

The deal gives special counsel Robert Mueller a key cooperator who led the Trump election effort for a crucial stretch during the 2016 presidential campaign, though the White House quickly said the outcome had nothing to do with that. The reason: "the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth". 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. "It is totally unrelated".

Andrew Weissmann, a federal prosecutor on Mueller's team, said that other charges may be dropped at sentencing or "or at the agreement of successful cooperation".

It was not immediately clear what information Manafort might provide prosecutors.

The move allows Manafort to avoid a second criminal trial and ends his more than year-long fight against investigators in the Russian Federation probe.

But Manafort's shocking reversal Friday morning indicates how Mueller's team is working behind the scenes, systematically going after lower-level associates and crimes related to finances and false statements, methodically flipping one witness after another.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released this statement on Manafort. Mueller has also gotten guilty pleas from former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, while Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in a case referred to the Southern District of NY by Mueller's office. That Mueller accepted the plea deal means they believe he certainly must have helpful information about somebody's illegal behavior, but this should not be taken to mean that it's about Trump.

Manafort served briefly as then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager in 2016. Law enforcement officials have come to suspect that Manafort hopes he will be pardoned by the president, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.

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"BOOM!" Dean tweeted Friday, and he added that the "entire Trump family now in jeopardy" - though he didn't explain why he thinks so.

News that Manafort has made a decision to break is quite surprising given that he had the option when facing his first trial over the summer.

Any light Manafort could shed on that meeting and other episodes could deepen the Mueller probe, legal experts said, increasing the pressure on Trump.

Manafort is still taking a financial hit, forfeiting $45m of criminal assets.

In his Virginia trial last month, Manafort was found guilty on 8 counts (5 tax fraud, 2 bank fraud, and 1 of hiding foreign accounts), with verdicts unable to be reached for the remaining 10 counts. He participated in a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians where he expected to receive derogatory information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani also commented, saying, "Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign". A fully co-operative Manafort can end the mystery. Kilimnik has not appeared in court, though Manafort's plea Friday admits that he committed his crimes in conspiracy with both Gates and Kilimnik. But as Newt Gingrich observed on August 19, 2016, on Fox News: "Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this campaign to where it is right now".

Manafort served for several months on the campaign, including as campaign chairman, until he was sacked in August 2016, amid revelations of the scope of his consulting and lobbying work for Ukrainian politicians, including then-President Viktor Yanukovych.

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