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Ex-Trump campaign manager Manafort pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate

Updated September 14, 2018 - 4:51 pm

WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to two felony counts of conspiracy as part of a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller that caps his sentence at 10 years.

Appearing in a Washington D.C. federal court, the high-profile political consultant confirmed that he had agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In return he avoids a second trial that could have exposed him to more time in prison.

Under the deal, Manafort, 69, faces two sentences of up to five years each, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said. Manafort also agreed to surrender five high-end properties in New York as well as financial assets.

Last month, a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted Manafort on eight counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to disclose foreign bank accounts. The jury failed to reach a verdict on 10 other charges. Under the plea agreement, the special counsel agreed to drop the 10 hung-jury charges.

Jackson put off sentencing on the two conspiracy counts until a later date. Manafort also has not been sentenced on the earlier conviction. He is likely to serve the sentences from the two cases at the same time, but the outcome is not settled. In the meantime, the once high-living political don remains in jail.

Leaving the courthouse, defense attorney Kevin Downing told reporters that Manafort “has accepted responsibility and this is for conduct that leads back many years, and everybody should remember that.”

The plea agreement involves criminal activity as far back as 2006. According to prosecutor Andrew Weissman, Manafort also failed to report $15 million in income from 2010 to 2014.

‘Totally unrelated’

In the hours after Manafort’s guilty plea , President Donald Trump’s Twitter account was unusually quiet. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Manafort’s case “had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”

But Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called the guilty plea a clear demonstration that Manafort “conducted illegal activity in conspiracy with Russian-backed entities and was beholden to Kremlin-linked officials,” which “underscores the seriousness of this investigation.”

Manafort is the fourth Trump campaign veteran to plead guilty after being targeted in the Mueller probe. Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates, Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos also have pleaded guilty to charges that included making false statements to federal investigators.

In addition, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August to five counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations related to hush-money paid to two women who claimed to have had sexual relations with Trump. Trump denies the women’s claims.

The Hapsburg Group

In the courtroom, Weissmann summarized the charges against Manafort, who led a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to help the pro-Russian government of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych without registering as an agent for a foreign government.

Manafort failed to disclose his involvement in lobbying efforts made through a group of former European politicians, known as the Hapsburg Group, who pushed policies beneficial to Ukraine, the allegations said.

In 2013, a member of the group brought his country’s prime minister to meet President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office – apparently to send the message that the administration should not let Russians steal Ukraine from the West.

It is unclear what information, if any, Manafort will provide for the Mueller probe.

Manafort did attend an infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, as well as Trump son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, after a go-between suggested Veselnitskaya had dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The meeting, campaign attendees later said, was a waste of time that produced no new information.

Mark Corallo, a GOP communications strategist who worked briefly for Trump’s defense team, doesn’t think the trail of Manafort’s testimony will reveal collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. “If I had to guess,” he told the Review-Journal, Manafort is more likely to target business associates cited by the special counsel in the Manafort indictment.

Richard Serafini, a former federal prosecutor turned white-collar defense attorney, noted that Manafort will have no choice but to cooperate with the government and provide information on whatever areas the government demands.

“A really important factor is that Mueller’s team has been absolutely professional,” Serafini said. “There are no leaks. There are no press conferences.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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