Paul Manafort agrees to co-operate with Mueller inquiry
Ex-Trump aide pleads guilty to two criminal counts as part of deal with special counsel
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters/File Photo
US president Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort agreed to co-operate with special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday as part of a plea deal agreed with prosecutors in Washington.
Mr Manafort, a long-time Republican strategist, pled guilty to two of seven charges levied against him in a court in Washington DC, days before his trial was due to start.
While the White House insisted that Mr Manafort’s trial had nothing to do with the president, the development is likely to alarm Mr Trump, who last month praised Mr Manafort for not striking a plea deal with investigators.
Appearing before Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a DC court on Friday morning, Mr Manafort was charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
As part of the plea agreement, the judge also agreed to drop 10 outstanding charges related to his trial last month in Virginia. Mr Manafort was convicted on eight charges in a Virginia court relating to banking and tax fraud charges, though he has not yet been sentenced.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Mr Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, gave a brief statement: “He wanted to make sure his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He’s accepted responsibility and this is for conduct that leads back many years, and everybody should remember that,” he said. He added that his client would “fully co-operate” with the Mueller team, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Under the terms of the deal, Mr Manafort faces a maximum prison of 10 years, though this does not include any sentence for his conviction last month.
Four of his homes as well as money in bank accounts will be seized by the government as part of the deal.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement following the court hearing. “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated,” she said.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that “once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the president did nothing wrong.”
Friday’s development marks a significant victory for the Mueller investigation, which has been under constant attack by Mr Trump, who has accused the department of justice of pursuing a “witch-hunt”.
Mr Manafort was Mr Trump’s campaign manager for five months in 2016 during the presidential campaign, but was dismissed in August that year as reports about his connections with pro-Russian Ukrainians surfaced.
Mr Manafort was present at the disputed June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Mr Trump’s son, Don jnr, and Russian individuals, which has come under the scrutiny of prosecutors.
His decision to plead guilty to reduced charges is a blow to Mr Trump. Last month the president praised Mr Manafort for not striking a plea deal with prosecutors, after his long-time lawyer Michael Cohen agreed to co-operate with investigators.
“Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ - make up stories in order to get a ‘deal. Such respect for a brave man!” the president tweeted.
Mr Manafort (69) has been detained in a Virginia prison while awaiting trial after he was found to have sought to interfere with witnesses. The court did not permit Mr Manafort to be released from jail on Friday.
Confirmation that Mr Manafort will co-operate with the Mueller investigation means that he could shed light on the workings of the Trump campaign in the months leading up to the November 2016 election.
Mr Manafort amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune through his work for foreign governments. He is also accused of not paying more than $15 million in taxes to the US authorities.