Paul Manafort, who once headed President Donald Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigations.
In an appearance at a federal court in Washington DC, Manafort – who is being held in custody – pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy against the US and one charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Correspondents say he faces up to 10 years in prison under the deal and will also forfeit four of his properties and the contents of several bank accounts. Deadlocked charges from the previous trial will be dismissed if there is “successful co-operation” with the special counsel.
The deal came three days before the scheduled start of jury selection in U.S. District Court in Washington for Manafort’s second trial. It also came several weeks after Trump blasted the practice of “flipping” — prosecutors getting defendants to cooperate against other people by offering them a plea deal — and said the commonly used tactic “almost ought to be illegal.”
The guilty plea by Manafort, 69, relates to money earned from consulting work on behalf of pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and predate his tenure as chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign.
Manafort, 69, worked for Mr Trump’s presidential campaign for five months in 2016 and was in charge when Mr Trump clinched the Republican party nomination.
In a statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Friday: “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”
During his time on the campaign, he participated in a controversial meeting with Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a Russian lawyer who supposedly had negative information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The plea deal requires him to cooperate “fully and truthfully” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign worked with Moscow to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Manafort’s guilty plea comes less than a month after the 69-year-old was convicted of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia.
Trump has repeatedly spoken out in Manafort’s defence – while also seeking to distance himself from his onetime associate, saying in June that he “came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time”.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” he tweeted in August, one day after Manafort was convicted of the eight financial charges.