WASHINGTON: 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.
Manafort’s plea deal with Mueller dramatically ramps up the legal and political danger already facing Trump. It came three days before the scheduled start of jury selection in U.S. District Court in Washington for Manafort’s second trial.
Prosecutors said the deal, which will require Manafort to forfeit an estimated $46 million in assets, includes a 17-page cooperation agreement with Mueller.
Mueller is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by members of Trump’s campaign in that effort. Mueller is also looking into whether Trump obstructed justice in an effort to influence the Russia probe.
The special counsel previously obtained guilty pleas to crimes from Trump’s ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn, campaign advisor George Papadopoulos and former Trump campaign official Rick Gates, who was a Manafort associate.
The guilty plea by Manafort, 69, relate 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.
“This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “It is totally unrelated.”
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer for the Russia probe, said: “Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign.”
“The reason: the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth,” Giuliani said.
Within minutes of Giuliani issuing that statement, another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, sent a “corrected statement” to reporters that said the same thing but omitted the words “and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”