Trump ex-campaign aide Manafort to plead guilty in Mueller probe

Trump ex-campaign aide Manafort to plead guilty in Mueller probe

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will plead guilty to two criminal counts as part of a deal with prosecutors on Friday, court documents showed in what could be a blow to Trump in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election meddling.

FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for arraignment on a third superseding indictment against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of witness tampering, at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S. June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

It was not immediately clear whether the deal would require Manafort, 69, to cooperate with Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.

Details of the deal were likely to emerge in a plea agreement hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) in federal court. Manafort would become the most prominent former Trump campaign official to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation, which has cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency.

If Manafort decides to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, that would deal a setback to Trump ahead of congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Kathleen Manafort, wife of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, arrives prior to a pre-trial hearing for Paul Manafort ahead of his upcoming trial on a range of charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Another approach for Manafort would be to plead guilty without cooperating and perhaps later receive a presidential pardon. Trump has not said whether he would pardon Manafort, but the president has not publicly ruled it out.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now representing Trump in the Russia probe, told Reuters that a guilty plea would not crush Manafort’s chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon.

“It’s not going to hurt him if he pleads guilty. Usually it helps you get a pardon down the road. It shows you’ve admitted your guilt,” he said on Friday before a deal was announced. He declined further comment until after the hearing.

Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before taking an unpaid position with Trump’s campaign for five months. He led the campaign in mid-2016 when Trump was selected as the Republican presidential nominee at the party convention.

Moscow has denied interfering in the 2016 election and Trump has said there was no collusion.

Kathleen Manafort, wife of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, arrives prior to a pre-trial hearing for Paul Manafort ahead of his upcoming trial on a range of charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

GUILTY PLEA

Manafort would plead guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday. Five other charges were dropped in the new court filing.

A Virginia jury convicted Manafort last month on bank and tax fraud charges. Prosecutors had accused him of hiding from U.S. tax authorities $16 million he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine to fund an opulent lifestyle and then lying to banks to secure $20 million in loans.

According to the court filing, the charge of conspiracy against the United States includes money laundering, tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, and acting as an unregistered lobbyist for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. The second count, for conspiracy to obstruct justice, concerns attempts to tamper with witnesses related to Manafort’s foreign lobbying.

Jury selection was due to begin on Monday in a second Manafort trial on charges including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering.

Trump last month praised his former aide for not entering into an agreement with prosecutors, as the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen had.

On Twitter on Aug. 22, Trump wrote: “Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal. Such respect for a brave man!”

Reporting by Nathan Layne and Susan Heavey; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Alistair Bell; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Howard Goller



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