Paul Manafort cooperating with investigators in Mueller probe

15 September, 2018, 06:16 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Paul Manafort

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort plead guilty Friday and agreed to cooperate in the special counsel investigation of possible campaign collusion with Russian Federation. The witness tampering landed Manafort behind bars before his trial, as the judge noted there was no other way to keep him from continuing to try to influence witnesses. He was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia.

That case alleged that Manafort directed a large-scale US lobbying operation for Ukrainian interests but never registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent despite being required to do so under the law, and that he concealed millions of dollars in income for the consulting work from the IRS. Previously, he was facing those charges, plus five others, including obstruction of justice, providing false statements, conspiracy to launder money, and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

No matter how you look at it, this deal has to be seen as a massive victory for Mueller and his special counsel team.

"If Manafort is willing to give Mueller information about Trump's contacts with Russian Federation, whether the contacts were direct or indirect, then this really is a disaster for Trump and his associates".

His apparent willingness to help Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation, is certain to rattle the president, who had previously praised Manafort for not striking a deal last month during a previous fraud trial in Virginia.

The deal gives special counsel Robert Mueller a key co-operator who led the Trump election effort for a crucial stretch during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign", said press secretary Sarah Sanders. "It is totally unrelated".

Trump last month praised his former campaign aide for not entering into an agreement with prosecutors, as the president's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen had. He did not elaborate on the agreement.

Manafort pleads guilty in cooperation deal;...

Prosecutors had accused him of hiding from United States tax authorities $16 million ($NZ24.4m) he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine to fund an opulent lifestyle and then lying to banks to secure $20m ($NZ30.5m) in loans. He was engaged in money laundering even as he was campaign chairman for Trump and for many years he was clearly involved in numerous activities in Ukraine, including the audacious gambit of trying to " put pressure " on what he apparently called "Obama jews"-Obama administration officials.

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In court on Friday, Manafort blew a kiss to his wife, Kathleen, before the hearing.

The language of the plea agreement is "really one-sided", she said. He also agreed to forfeit some properties.

The charges were filed in a superseding criminal information - a formal criminal charge - which lays out the facts of the offense and is often the precursor to the announcement of a deal.

Manafort's second trial would have been related to his Ukrainian political consulting work, including failing to register as a foreign agent.

But Manafort's shocking reversal Friday morning indicates how Mueller's team is working behind the scenes, systematically going after lower-level associates and crimes related to finances and false statements, methodically flipping one witness after another.

Paul Manafort (centre) is heckled as he walks into court.

It's unclear whether any agreement with prosecutors would require him to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation.

"Manafort's guilty plea - with cooperation! - is an absolute nightmare for Trump, and his family", former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega told the Guardian in an email. The allegations revealed last October reiterated a year of news reports that Manafort had secretly funneled income from Ukrainian lobbying contacts for years.

The former Trump campaign chairman agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, but the important question is whether he knows anything about the alleged Donald Trump-Russia collusion tale that made Mr. Manafort a target.

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