Despite guilty plea, Paul Manafort still holds the Trump card

Despite guilty plea, Paul Manafort still holds the Trump card

After months of refusing to assist Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian interference and possible coordination between Trump campaign members and Moscow, Manafort finally took a plea deal on Friday and agreed to cooperate in return for reduced charges. The charges accuse him of a conspiracy involving money laundering, tax fraud, failure to report foreign bank accounts, violating rules requiring registration of foreign agents, lying and witness tampering while performing consulting work with a Ukrainian political party.

Had he chose to cooperate with prosecutors well before that trial began - he had months to do so - the plea agreement would probably have looked a lot different, and more balanced, than the one filed in court Friday in D.C. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.

Downing told reporters after the hearing that his client has "accepted responsibility" for conduct dating back "many years", and he "wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life".

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

In August, Manafort was convicted at trial in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges that pre-dated his stint on Mr Trump's campaign and involved his work with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

According to court documents, he has agreed to plead guilty on Friday to two criminal counts in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

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Paul Manafort's plea agreement is a monstrously one-sided deal in favor of the government. Earlier this year, Manafort criticized his former business associate Rick Gates for cooperating with investigators, saying, "I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence".

Manafort was accused of concealing from the IRS tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from his Ukrainian patrons and conspiring to launder that money through offshore accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere.

That trial was supposed to start next week in Washington.

On another conspiracy-related front, as Natasha Bertrand points out today, Manafort might be in a good position to shed light on what exactly former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos - who has testified as part of his own plea deal that he learned that Russian Federation had stolen dirt on Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails" - might have told campaign higher ups about this at the time, another big unknown.

Trump's Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a brief statement on the issue Friday.

Courtroom sketch of former Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort at federal court in Washington.

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Manafort, 69, also pleaded guilty to two criminal counts, becoming the most prominent former Trump campaign official to plead guilty in Mueller's investigation.

As part of his deal, the government plans to seize four properties, including a almost US$2 million house in Arlington, Virginia, owned by one of Manafort's daughters. "It is totally unrelated".

It has been reported that Mr Trump's legal team is quite relaxed about Manafort's change of heart, believing that there is very little he can tell Mueller's team.

"Manafort's cooperation is a tremendous achievement for the Mueller investigation-maybe the single biggest development yet", said Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. "Manafort provides Mueller with an insider to the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting and likely many other key moments".

Trump's former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted financial crimes and is helping federal prosecutors in NY.

Moscow rejects the conclusions of USA intelligence agencies that it interfered in the American democratic process and Trump denies campaign collusion.

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