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14 Sep, 2018 13:36

Paul Manafort pleads guilty to two criminal charges, will cooperate with Mueller

Paul Manafort pleads guilty to two criminal charges, will cooperate with Mueller

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort has pleaded guilty to two criminal charges, and will cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 'Russiagate' investigation as part of a plea deal.

In a Washington DC federal court, Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort had been facing seven counts of foreign lobbying violations and witness tampering, relating to his time lobbying for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych over a decade ago. 

Prosecutors said on Friday that Manafort will cooperate with Mueller's investigation as part of his plea deal. Per the deal, Manafort can be questioned by Mueller's team without his lawyer present.

In a separate trial in Virginia last month, a jury found Manafort guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud crimes. The Virginia jury was deadlocked on ten other counts, which will now be dismissed as part of Manafort’s plea bargain, along with the outstanding charges in the latest case. Manafort does, however, waive his right to appeal the eight convictions.

In the Virginia trial, Mueller’s team had sought to portray Manafort as a man of wealth, who lived a life of luxury at the expense of the American taxpayer.

While he was prosecuted by Mueller - originally tasked with uncovering alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016 - none of Manafort’s charges relate to collusion. After the former campaign chair was found guilty last month, Trump tweeted that he felt “very badly for Paul Manafort,” and accused prosecutors of pressuring his former colleague with old charges to force him to cooperate with the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ investigation.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Friday that Manafort's deal "had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”

Documents submitted to the court by Mueller on Friday revealed that far from cosying up to a ‘pro-Russian’ president, as Yanukovych has often been described, Manafort lobbied for closer ties between Ukraine and the EU. As part of his lobbying efforts, a member of Mueller’s group met with then-President Obama and Vice President Biden to deliver a message of “not letting the Russians steal Ukraine from the west.”

Despite Mueller's documentary evidence, Democrats have still been pushing the narrative that Manafort's guilty plea had something to do with Russia. His admission of guilt, Se. Mark Warner (D-Indiana) tweeted, "clearly demonstrates that the President’s 2016 campaign manager conducted illegal activity in conspiracy with Russian-backed entities and was beholden to Kremlin-linked officials."

With Manafort possibly facing decades in prison, President Trump has vaguely teased the possibility of extending a pardon to his old campaign chairman, telling Fox & Friends’ Ainsley Earhardt last month that he has “great respect for what he has done in terms of what he has gone through.”

Trump would be well within his rights to pardon Manafort, but Democratic lawmakers have cautioned him against such a move. Any attempt to pardon Manafort, Senator Ron Whyden (D-Oregon) argued, “would be a gross assault on the rule of law, and constitute high crimes and misdemeanors” - grounds for impeachment. 

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