Manafort Strikes Deal to Cooperate with Mueller Investigation

Washington DC.- Manafort faces charges including conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy against the United States

On Friday (Saturday NZT), prosecutor Andrew Weissman said in court that Manafort had struck a "cooperation agreement" and would plead guilty to charges related to his Ukrainian political consulting work.

President Trump's legal team signaled earlier this week that they weren't anxious about the prospect of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort negotiating a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller - in fact, some lawyers close to the case suggested a plea deal could be beneficial for both Manafort and Trump.

In his guilty plea (pdf), Manafort admitted to knowingly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by failing to register as an agent of a foreign power while conducting lobbying work for Ukraine in the United States.

Friday's plea deal comes just three days ahead of when jury selection for his second trial was set to begin.

Although the precise nature of Manafort's cooperation remains unclear, reaction to the news on Friday was swift.

For months, analysts, experts and political talking heads have speculated Trump could reward Manafort with a presidential pardon for holding out on a plea agreement - where he would be asked all sorts of questions about his dealings with the president on the 2016 campaign - and going to trial.

Manafort, however, continues to hold a literal "Trump card", which he may elect to play only at the conclusion of court proceedings in his case.

Now the special counsel's office can refocus on the central portion of its investigation - whether there was any co-ordination between the Russian government and the Trump team in 2016.

Both Manafort and Gates pleaded "Not Guilty" at the time.

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Note: This article has been updated with news that Manafort's plea deal is a cooperation agreement. Manafort's attorneys had argued that the trial should be moved to Roanoke, Virginia, because the intensity of publicity in Washington made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial. In a Twitter thread, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti explains that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with the feds on any potential activity by anybody that's relevant to Mueller's investigation.

A plea deal was light at the end of the tunnel for Manafort - and on Friday that was the direction he chose to travel.

Mueller's team filed a document today, outlining charges of Manafort money laundering and tax fraud, and attempts to tamper with witnesses to obstruct justice.

In addition to the criminal charges, prosecutors said in a court filing that Manafort could be forced to forfeit assets that would deal him a significant financial blow: four houses he owns, including an expansive retreat in the Hamptons, plus four bank accounts and the proceeds of a life insurance policy. In February, the former campaign chairman called out his business partner, Rick Gates, for deciding to make a deal-which cut him some slack in exchange for testifying against Manafort.

Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, echoed that idea, adding that "the president did nothing wrong". Trump has said previously that he doesn't like flippers, but Manafort has clearly flipped.

A White House spokeswoman quickly sought to distance Trump from the plea deal, saying Manafort's admission of guilt was "totally unrelated" to Trump. The president's former personal lawyer has separately pleaded guilty in NY.

Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

A jury in that earlier trial found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud.

Manafort, 69, earned tens of millions of dollars lobbying for foreign governments and spent that money freely, including on a $15,000 ostrich coat, landscaping and real estate.

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