Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort to cooperate in Russian Federation probe

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI  AFP

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now representing Trump in the Russian Federation probe, told Reuters on Friday before the hearing that a guilty plea would not crush Manafort's chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon.

Since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel 16 months ago, his investigation has endured an unrelenting onslaught of attacks from the president and his allies. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says that the crimes he's guilty of have nothing to do with Trump, but according to the indictment, Manafort did crimes throughout the campaign and the year 2017.

As recently as last month, Trump praised his former campaign manager, who he said said was a "brave man" who "refused to break".

"He's accepted responsibility", Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing, said. The government brought a large contingent, though special counsel Robert Mueller was not present. They were all hugging and congratulating each other at the end of the hearing. The reason: "the President did nothing wrong", said Giuliani.

Ahead of the hearing, Mueller's office filed superseding criminal information, which spelled out the two counts to which Manafort has pleaded guilty: conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, was convicted in August of eight charges of tax evasion and bank fraud for concealing the money he had made from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine (including its former President Viktor Yanukovych). Manafort did not contest the other five counts against him.

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In recent days, as the Manafort plea talks were ongoing, the President's legal team expressed confidence that if Manafort signed a cooperation agreement it wouldn't have anything to do with the President, according to a source briefed on their thinking. The judge should decide this.

The charges were contained in a criminal information document that can only be filed with a defendant's consent and typically signals a deal has been reached.

It was not immediately clear what information Manafort might provide prosecutors. He is accused of avoiding $15 million in taxes by storing his money in offshore accounts, as well as witness-tampering and working as an unregistered lobbyist on behalf of Ukraine before his time with the Trump campaign. To all of these questions Manafort responded "I did".

What's extraordinary about this plea agreement, though, is the lack of protections Manafort has if that scenario were to play out.

The ex-campaign chair reportedly lied to Trump and said his plane had "mechanical problems" on July 12 so that he would have to say in Indianapolis, where he arranged a breakfast between the candidate and the governor.

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Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now representing Trump in the Russian Federation probe, told Reuters on Friday that a guilty plea to avoid a second trial would not crush Manafort's chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon. "This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign", she wrote.

The White House says Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller is "totally unrelated" to President Donald Trump. The deal also calls for forfeiture of four financial accounts and a life insurance policy.

Arlington, Virginia property on Edgewood Street. In return, Manafort will not face a second trial in which he could receive more severe punishment.

Manafort is expected to appear in a US district courtroom in Washington, D.C., later Friday morning.

Manafort has been in jail since mid-June.

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There was no sentencing Friday, and Manafort is still detained in prison in Alexandria.

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