Manafort pleads guilty, reaches 'cooperation agreement'

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFormer White House lawyer sought to pay Manafort, Gates legal fees: report Mueller investigating Russian payments made by Trump Tower meeting organizers: report Cohen questioned for hours in Mueller probe about Trump's dealings with Russia: report MORE pleaded guilty to two federal charges Friday in a deal that includes cooperation with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in court on Friday that Manafort has agreed to submit to interviews with the special counsel, testify in any future cases and provide related documents.

According to the plea agreement filed in court Friday afternoon, Manafort must cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” with the Justice Department in any and all matters that the government finds his cooperation to be relevant. 

Manafort has also agreed to forfeit several properties and the current funds held in several bank accounts.

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“I plead guilty,” Manafort told the judge quietly after answering a series of questions from the judge. 

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 between 210 to 262 months in prison for the crimes and pay a fine of $40,000 to 400,000.

But Berman said the statutory guidelines cap the sentence at five years for each count and that prosecutors have agreed a sentence capped at the guideline range would be reasonable. She also said prosecutors will file a request for a lesser sentence based on the value of information Manafort provides in cooperating with their investigation, but she said she does not have to accept that request.

Prosecutors and Manafort’s defense attorneys agreed to file a joint status report by Nov. 16.

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.

The jury could not come to a consensus on 10 counts, forcing the judge to rule a mistrial on those charges.

Manafort’s cooperation could be significant to Mueller’s investigation, given his work on the Trump campaign, though the scope of his cooperation remains unclear. Manafort is the fourth Trump associate to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation.

 

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.Donald (Don) John TrumpOn The Money: Trump signs first 2019 'minibus' spending package | Mueller probing transactions by Russian organizers of Trump Tower meeting | Stocks brush off trade fears Trump Jr. slams Rosenstein report: 'No one is shocked' Rosenstein wanted to wear wire on Trump, NYT says MORE, was offered damaging information on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate MORE

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 investigating 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. 

In court Friday, Manafort looked pale but stoic in a black suit, white shirt and purple tie. After taking his seat at the defense table, he smiled and mouthed a kiss to his wife Kathleen, who was seated in the front row of the crowded courtroom. She was seated between a friend, who accompanied her for the duration of the Virginia trail, and the family’s spokesman Jason Maloni.

Ater the proceedings, Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing gave a brief statement outside to the press outside the courthouse. He said his client had accepted responsibility.

“He wanted to make sure his family was able to remain safe and live a good life,” said Downing, who was swarmed by reporters and TV cameras. “He’s accepted responsibility and this is for conduct that dates many years and everybody should remember that.”

Downing did not answer any further questions as he walked away from the courthouse surrounded by reporters. One TV cameraman tripped over a curb and fell hard onto the ground trying to keep up. Downing stopped briefly to make sure he was OK, but said nothing further about the case.

-Updated 3:35 p.m.