Former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort Strikes Plea Deal

Politics

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has struck a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The deal involves a reduced prison sentence for the onetime campaign head in exchange for pleading guilty to two charges stemming from a case involving money laundering and foreign lobbying charges.

Manafort was convicted of eight felony counts last month – five counts of tax fraud, one count of failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts and two counts of bank fraud. He was facing a total of eighteen counts on a bevy of charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and lying to the FBI.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on a combination of ten counts of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy. Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on those charges.

Manafort and longtime assistant Rick Gates were indicted in October by Mueller. Mueller is investigating interference in the 2016 presidential election by the Russian government and cooperation in those efforts by members of the Trump campaign.

In February, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false statements. He has been a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation ever since. He was pivotal in the case against Manafort.

Most of the funds Mueller is investigating the origins of in the Manafort/Gates case(s) – as much as $65 million – came from lobbying work the duo performed for pro-Russian politicians in the country of Ukraine. The funds, Gates has since confirmed, were funneled from Ukraine to bank accounts on the island nation of Cyprus, a notorious tax haven for Russian oligarchs. From there they were laundered through shell corporations and hidden in, among other places, expensive real estate purchases in the United States.

The prosecution in Manafort’s case had amassed voluminous evidence against the onetime campaign chair including emails he’d written and bank records he’d signed. Manafort had pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He was set to stand trial in Washington D.C. for failing to properly declare himself a foreign lobbyist. That trial was set to begin imminently and the prosecutors in that case were among the same prosecutors handling the case decided last month, held in Northern Virginia.

As a result of the plea deal struck today, Manafort agreed to “cooperate fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly with the Government and other law enforcement authorities identified by the Government in any and all matters as to which the Government deems the cooperation relevant,” court documents read.

The plea deal may have implications for President Trump although the President’s legal team and senior White House staff downplayed any connections today.

“From our perspective, we want him to do the right thing for himself,” former New York City Mayor and current attorney to President Trump, Rudy Giuliani said of Manafort. “There’s no fear that Paul Manafort would cooperate against the president because there’s nothing to cooperate about and we long ago evaluated him as an honorable man.”

Giuliani argued the President has nothing to be concerned about with regards to Manafort’s deal because if Manafort had information that was damaging to the president, Mueller’s investigators “would have had him plead to a conspiracy that would encompass the president.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed those sentiments. “This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated,” she said in a statement.

Manafort’s lead attorney, Kevin Downing, also seemed to go out of his way to absolve the president of any wrongdoing although not addressing any comments to or about him directly.

“[Manafort] wanted to make sure his family was able to remain safe and live a good life,” Downing said in a statement outside of the courtroom after the proceedings. “He’s accepted responsibility and this is for conduct that dates many years and everybody should remember that.”

“I plead guilty,” Manafort said quietly after answering several questions from judge Amy Berman Jackson in federal district court in Washington, D.C. this afternoon. Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice by witness tampering.

The tiny number of counts pleaded guilty to notwithstanding, the plea deal is significant because Manafort is admitting guilt to all the crimes the U.S. government has accused him of relating to foreign lobbying efforts. He is also admitting guilt to the ten counts the jury failed to reach a consensus on in the Virginia trial. As part of the agreement Manafort will not be charged on those counts.

The guilty plea will allow Manafort to avoid the second, Washington, D.C., trial. Manafort faced seven separate charges including failing to register as a lobbyist working on behalf of a foreign country and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Manafort had been facing more than twenty years in prison and fines of between $40,000 and $400,000. Based on the plea, prosecutors have agreed that a sentence capped at five years for each count would be reasonable. Judge Berman acknowledged that prosecutors would be requesting the lesser sentence but made clear that the sentence would be her decision.

Manafort is the fourth former Trump campaign official to plead guilty to charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller has also been able to secure the cooperation of several former Trump business, political and legal associates including former personal attorney Michael Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr

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