Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to criminal charges related to his political consulting work in Ukraine as part of a plea deal with the special counsel’s office, the latest in a series of high-profile wins for Robert Mueller.
Appearing in federal court in D.C. Friday morning, Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The plea avoids a second criminal trial for Manafort, which was set to begin in Washington later this month, related to his lobbying and consulting work on behalf of pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine.
“Mr. Manafort has accepted responsibility, and he wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life,” Kevin Downing, one of Manafort’s attorneys, told reporters outside the courthouse. “He’s accepted responsibility, and this is for conduct that dates back many years, and everybody should remember that.”
As part of the plea deal, Manafort has agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, a striking change of heart for someone who earlier this year criticized his former associate Rick Gates for his guilty plea, saying, “I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence.” It’s unclear what the terms of Manafort’s cooperation agreement are.
The superseding criminal information filed by Mueller’s office Friday morning says Manafort acted as an unregistered foreign agent and engaged in money laundering, tax fraud, lying to the Justice Department and witness tampering.
“Between at least 2006 and 2015, MANAFORT conspired with Richard W. Gates (Gates), Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik), and others to act, and acted, as unregistered agents of a foreign government and political party,” the criminal information reads. “MANAFORT generated more than 60 million dollars in income as a result of his Ukraine work. In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT, with the assistance of Gates and Kilimnik, laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.”
Manafort is the fifth Trump aide to plead guilty in connection to the special counsel’s probe. His business partner Gates, who testified against him in the last trial, pleaded guilty to two criminal charges, including lying to investigators. Mueller has also gotten guilty pleas from former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in an investigation referred to the Southern District of New York by Mueller’s office.
After news broke of Manafort’s plea Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”
Friday’s deal comes on the heels of a Virginia jury convicting Manafort of eight counts of tax and bank fraud in a separate trial in August. The jury deadlocked on 10 other charges in that case, which Mueller’s office agreed to drop as part of the new plea bargain.
Now the question is whether Trump might intervene. Trump has expressed sympathy for Manafort and according to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the president has considered pardoning his former campaign chairman. When asked about the possibility last month after Manafort was convicted by the first jury, Trump said, “I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”
But Trump also argued that Manafort would never cut a deal with prosecutors, who he alleged were treating him unfairly. “Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,'” Trump tweeted. “Such respect for a brave man!”
Friday’s news may change the president’s perspective.