Paul Manafort pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with Mueller investigation

Manafort pleads guilty, cooperates with DOJ

Washington (CNN)After months of vowing to fight for his innocence, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort conceded to committing several federal crimes and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department, including in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, DC, on Friday to one count of conspiracy against the US and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice due to attempts to tamper with witnesses.

Friday’s court activity signals Mueller’s investigation will continue and delve deeper into what Manafort knows. Even in lessening the charges against Manafort, prosecutors still have significant leverage over him if he isn’t helpful to their investigation.

Manafort’s decision to cooperate with Mueller comes just weeks after President Donald Trump called Manafort a “brave man” who would not “make up stories in order to get a ‘deal'” after he was convicted in a separate trial in Virginia.

READ: Paul Manafort's plea
READ: Paul Manafort’s plea

He also admitted to all the other crimes Mueller accused him of since last October — from money laundering and bank fraud to foreign lobbying violations related to his work for pro-Russian Ukrainians. Those charges will be dropped if he completely complies with the cooperation agreement.

“I plead guilty,” Manafort said to the judge near the end of the hour-long hearing.

Special counsel’s office senior prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge that under Manafort’s plea agreement, the other charges will be dropped after he is sentenced in both Virginia and DC “or at the agreement of successful cooperation.”

Manafort was separately convicted of eight crimes by a Virginia federal jury last month. The 69-year-old now faces a likely prison sentence of almost 20 years when the two convictions are stacked consecutively.

Manafort’s cooperation deal means he will have to meet with the special counsel’s office when they want to speak with him about other criminal activities, turn over all documents relevant to the investigation, testify when needed and never lie to them.

The terms don’t prevent other parts of the Justice Department or state and local authorities from bringing new charges. He also could face administrative claims from the government, the agreement says.

“Your client shall testify fully, completely and truthfully before any and all Grand Juries in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, and at any and all trials of cases or other court proceedings in the District of Columbia and elsewhere,” the plea agreement, which Manafort signed a day before, says.

While Trump is not mentioned in Friday’s filing, nor is Manafort’s role in his campaign, the news of the cooperation comes as the President continued to lambast the Mueller investigation on Twitter this week.

In a statement to CNN after the news of Manafort’s cooperation, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”

Wearing a purple tie beneath his dark suit, Manafort looked glum as the hearing unfolded, standing next to his attorney, Richard Westling, with a court security officer standing immediately behind him. Manafort answered the judge’s questions about himself, his plea and rights he will waive, including his rights to a trial and to any appeals.

“I do,” he said repeatedly in a soft voice, waiving each right. As a prosecutor read a long statement of what Manafort admitted to, Manafort sat near the courtroom wall with his eyes closed.

Paul Manafort's cooperation deal tightens the vise on Trumpworld
Paul Manafort’s cooperation deal tightens the vise on Trumpworld

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead attorney, said as he exited the courthouse that Manafort wanted to make sure that “his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He’s accepted responsibility, this is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that.”

Manafort had proffered information to the government on Tuesday, and his legal team signed the deal on Thursday.

In recent days as the Manafort plea talks were ongoing, the President’s legal team expressed confidence that if Manafort signed a cooperation agreement it wouldn’t have anything to do with the President, according to a source briefed on their thinking.

“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,” said Giuliani.

It was the second version of the statement. The initial version, which was quickly revised, included “Paul Manafort will tell the truth” as part of the quote. The amended version removed the phrase.

A legal source, supportive of the President and familiar with the Manafort case, said the Trump team does not believe Manafort has anything significant on the President to share with the special counsel.

The White House had previously distanced itself from Manafort and downplayed his time leading the Trump campaign. But…

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