WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort struck a plea deal with Robert Mueller’s team that includes cooperating with the special counsel on additional investigations and undergoing questioning from prosecutors without his attorney present.
A month ago, Manafort was found guilty in Alexandria, Va., on five tax fraud charges, one count of hiding foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. He faces up to 80 years in prison on those charges.
Questioning of potential jurors had started in the D.C. Circuit for Manafort’s next trial on seven counts of conspiracy, witness tampering and lobbying violations in respect to working on behalf of a foreign government. Opening statements were scheduled for Sept. 24.
With today’s agreement, Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts: conspiracy against the United States including money laundering, tax fraud, operating as a foreign agent in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and lying to federal investigators; and witness tampering during his pre-trial release period.
Manafort also agreed not to appeal any trial or pre-trial issues in his Eastern District of Virginia conviction, and “abandons any interest he has in all forfeitable property and consents to any disposition of the property by the government without further notice” — to the tune of $46 million, something any presidential pardon could not retrieve.
Prosecutors said “no additional criminal charges will be brought against the defendant for his heretofore disclosed participation in criminal activity” and will drop remaining counts “at the time of sentence or at the completion of his successful cooperation, whichever is later.”
According to court documents, Manafort has agreed to cooperate with Mueller “in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant.”
That cooperation includes debriefings by law enforcement and government attorneys without his counsel present, turning any relevant documents over to the government, and testifying “at any proceeding” as the government requests.
When Manafort eventually goes for sentencing, the agreement notes that Mueller will let the court know how much Manafort did or did not cooperate.
“He wanted to be able to make sure his family remained safe and live a good life. He has accepted responsibility,” Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told reporters outside of D.C. District Court after the plea hearing.
Today’s court filings describe Manafort lobbying for Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government as covertly as possible, reaping more than $60 million in the process and laundering the money, then his efforts earlier this year to get potential witnesses from his group to falsely say that they were not lobbying in the United States. 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.
President Trump tweeted on Aug. 22, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Trump told Fox News after the Alexandria convictions that “one of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial” instead of turning state’s evidence.
“This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful, and then they get 10 years in jail, and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Manafort’s plea, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”