- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2018

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two felonies on Friday and has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the U.S. and one count of conspiracy obstruct justice through an effort to influence witness testimony in his D.C. trial, which was scheduled for Sept. 24.

None of the crimes that Manafort pleaded guilty to occurred during his brief tenure at the helm of the Trump campaign in 2016. Neither President Trump nor the campaign was mentioned in court Friday.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement emphasized that Manafort’s plea deal is “totally unrelated” to the president.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign,” she said.

The plea agreement spares Manafort from that trial, which would be his second in as many months. In August, a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted him on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, but deadlocked on 10 other charges.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann of Mr. Mueller’s team told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the plea is a “cooperation agreement. That means both the Washington and unresolved Virginia charges will be dropped at sentencing or “at the agreement of a successful cooperation.”

It is not clear how much help Manafort will provide to Mueller’s prosecutors. His attorneys have repeatedly insisted that he had no information to share and were seeking a plea deal that did not involve cooperation.

But Mr. Weissmann said in court Friday that Manafort has already provided the government with information.

The special counsel’s prosecutors agreed to drop five D.C. charges against Manafort, including money laundering, tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, violating the Federal Agents Registration Act and lying to federal investigators. However, a filing before the hearing says that Manafort has admitted to those crimes.

Wearing the same suit he wore to his Virginia trial, Manafort told Judge Jackson that he understood his plea and his rights under the agreement.

Judge Jackson if what prosecutors said is a “true and accurate description” of what he did in this case.

“It is,” Manafort responded.

The one-time Trump campaign chair faces a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 for each charge, but will likely be sentenced to less, Judge Jackson said. A status conference is scheduled for November 16.

In a filing ahead of Friday’s hearing, prosecutors repeated their claims that Manafort earned more than $60 million lobbying the U.S. on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainians and laundered that money by stashing it in offshore accounts, keeping that information from his own accountants and bookkeepers.

Mr. Weissman said in court that Manafort cheated the United States out of over $15 million in taxes.

The plea deal was not surprising. Media reports had surfaced in recent days that Manafort’s team was close to a deal with prosecutors.

Mr. Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who earlier this week said the administration had no fear of Manafort cooperating with Mueller’s team, reiterated that confidence in a statement released Friday.

“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,” Mr. Giuliani said.

The Manafort guilty plea continues Mr. Mueller’s winning streak. He has secured guilty pleas from the U.S. citizens that have either been directly charged in the investigation or prosecuted as a referral from his office.

Among the high-profile defendants who have pleaded guilty are longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen, whose case was referred to New York prosecutors by Mueller’s team, George Papadopoulos, a key Trump campaign figure, and Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

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