Paul Manafort pleads guilty: Reaches 'cooperation agreement'

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is pleading guilty to two federal charges stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and has reached a "cooperation agreement" as part of the plea deal.

Manafort has agreed to cooperate “fully and truthfully” with Mueller’s investigation, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in court on Friday. He will submit to interviews with the special counsel and provide documents related to the probe, she said.

He has also agreed to forfeit several properties and bank accounts, including his property at Trump Tower in New York.

“I plead guilty,” Manafort told the court.

Manafort gave the guilty plea on one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice by witness tampering.

The sentencing guidelines indicate Manafort could face from 210 to 262 months in prison for the crimes. Prosecutors have agreed to depart downward from the guideline range based on the value of his cooperation.

Prosecutors and Manafort’s defense attorneys agreed to file a joint status report within 60 days.

Mueller filed a superseding criminal information earlier on Friday laying out a series of allegations related to Manafort’s work lobbying on behalf of pro-Russia forces in Ukraine that had already been charged in previous court filings.

Prosecutors allege that Manafort, conspiring with his former business partner Richard Gates and Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik, illegally lobbied on behalf of a foreign government by failing to register as a foreign agent.

Prosecutors also allege that Manafort laundered more than $30 million from his work to buy property and other items in the United States, evading more than $15 million in taxes.

By pleading guilty, Manafort is admitting to all of the alleged crimes with which he is charged that were related to his foreign lobbying efforts. He is also admitting guilt to 10 bank and tax fraud charges that a jury could not reach a consensus on in his August trial in Virginia, though he will not be charged on those counts as part of the plea agreement.

The guilty plea will allow Manafort to avert a second trial in Washington, D.C., stemming from Mueller’s probe. He faced seven separate charges in that case, including failing to register as a lobbyist for a foreign country, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and obstructing justice for witness tampering. Kilimnik was charged alongside Manafort in June with conspiracy to obstruct justice, but is unlikely to see his day in court because he is Russian and therefore out of reach of U.S. prosecutors.

Prosecutors had offered Manafort the opportunity to have a single trial on all charges, but he refused, forcing prosecutors to bring charges both in the Eastern District of Virginia and in Washington.

Manafort’s Virginia trial generated considerable attention from the public and the media. At that trial, Gates, who is cooperating in Mueller’s probe, testified against him in dramatic form.

A jury in Alexandria convicted Manafort on eight counts of bank and tax fraud charges in late August, in what was widely viewed as a victory for Mueller’s team and which represented the special counsel’s first court test in the sprawling Russia investigation.

The three-week trial centered on income Manafort earned working as a political consultant for pro-Russia officials in Ukraine.

Manafort’s cooperation is viewed as significant to Mueller’s investigation, given his work on the Trump campaign.

Manafort was one of three key Trump associates who participated in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, which was set up after Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was offered damaging information on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Mueller, who is investigating if there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, has already secured several Trump associates as cooperators, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Mueller is also under investigation on whether Trump obstructed justice, and is currently in talks with the president’s lawyers to secure a voluntary interview with him.

Manafort served as Trump’s campaign chairman until August 2016, when he was forced to resign from the post as reports emerged about his lobbying work for Russian-backed oligarchs in Ukraine. The crimes he is pleading guilty to are unrelated to his work on the campaign.

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