THE WASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trumpâs former campaign chairman and a native of New Britain, Connecticut, Paul Manafort is pleading guilty to two criminal charges under terms of a plea deal that includes his cooperation as a potential witness for special counsel Robert Mueller.
The decision by Manafort to provide evidence in exchange for leniency on sentencing is a stunning development in the long-running probe into whether any Trump associates may have conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
âI plead guilty,â Manafort told U.S. District Court judge Amy Berman Jackson, who accepted his plea on Friday.
Kevin Downing, an attorney for Manafort, gave a brief statement outside the courthouse after the plea hearing. âHe wanted to make sure his family remained safe and live a good life,â Downing said of Manafort. âHe has accepted responsibility.â
When asked if the deal with Muellerâs team is a full cooperation agreement, Downing replied âit is.â He did not respond to questions about whether Manafort has been interviewed by Muellerâs team or if Manafortâs defense team remains in a joint defense agreement with Trumpâs attorneys.
Manafortâs defenders have long insisted that he would not cooperate with Mueller, and didnât know any incriminating information against the president.
Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said at the beginning of Fridayâs plea hearing that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with investigators, saying the 17-page plea document included the terms of Manafortâs expected cooperation.
Jackson noted Manafort has agreed to cooperate âfully and truthfullyâ with the investigation conducted by the Office of Special Counsel, including participating in interviews and debriefings, producing any documents in his control, testifying, and agreeing to delay sentencing until a time set by government.
Manafort also waived his right to have counsel present for every debriefing or interview.
Under the terms of the deal, Manafort faces a possible maximum prison sentence of about 10 years, though that doesnât include any likely sentence for his conviction last month in Virginia. His attorneys may seek a lower sentence, and prosecutors did not agree to recommend any sentence. The judge made no mention of any offer by prosecutors for a letter recommending leniency in case of substantial cooperation.
Before Manafort pleaded guilty, Weissmann gave a 40-minute description of the criminal conduct in the case.
âI did. It is.â
âI believe itâs fair to say thatâs probably the longest and most detailed summary that ever preceded this question, but is what the prosecutor said a true and accurate description of what you did in this case,â Jackson asked Manafort.
âI did. It is,â Manafort, said, resting both hands on the lectern before him and flanked by his attorney, Richard Westling.
The deal will short-circuit Manafortâs trial scheduled for later this month.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a brief statement following the announcement. âThis had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign,â she said. âIt is totally unrelated.â
The presidentâs lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said âonce 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.â
A criminal information - a legal document filed by prosecutors to detail the criminal conduct to be admitted by the defendant - was filed in advance of the plea. The document shows Manafort intends to plead guilty to two crimes of the seven he faced at trial: conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct justice.
The document indicates he will admit to funneling millions of dollars in payments into offshore accounts to conceal his income from the Internal Revenue Service.
In 2012, Manafort set out to help his client, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, by tarnishing the reputation of Yanukovychâs political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, according to the document.
âManafort stated that â(my} goal is to plant some stink on Tymoâ,â according to the document. At the time he made that statement, he was trying to get U.S. news outlets to print stories that Tymoshenko had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official, according to the criminal information.
The document also says Manafort âorchestrated a scheme to have, as he wrote in a contemporaneous communication, â(O)bama jewsâ put pressure on the administration to disavow Tymoshenko and support Yanukovych,â the document said.
Manafort set out to spread stories in the U.S. that a senior American Cabinet official âwas supporting anti-Semitism because the official supported Tymoshenko,â according to the document. As part of his deal, the government plans to seize four properties, including a nearly $2 million house in Arlington, Virginia, owned by one of Manafortâs daughters. The deal also calls for forfeiture of four financial accounts and a life insurance policy.
The move toward a guilty plea is another reversal for Manafort, who has fought vociferously - but unsuccessfully - against Muellerâs probe. The 69-year-old political consultant was convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on charges of bank and tax fraud.