Paul Manafort, the longtime Republican political consultant who spent five months as President Donald Trump's campaign chair during the 2016 campaign, has reached a plea deal and agreed to cooperate "fully and truthfully" with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian attempts to intefere with the U.S. presidential election.
Federal Prosecutor Andrew Weissman called Manafort's plea deal a cooperation agreement during a Friday morning hearing, according to NBC News. The Friday morning hearing at the federal courthouse in the nation's capital was originally a pre-trial, but it was rescheduled as an arraignment and plea agreement hearing.
"This had absolutely nothing to do with (President Trump or his campaign)," the White House told NBC News following the news that Manafort had entered a cooperation agreement with Mueller. "It is totally unrelated."
The news of the agreement came as Manafort faced a second trial later this month in Washington on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, including obstruction of justice, failure to register as a foreign agent (a reference to Manafort's work for the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine) and conspiracy to launder money.
The charging documents, while accusing him of just two criminal counts, alleged that Manafort "knowingly and intentionally" engaged in a conspiracy against the U.S., involving money laundering, tax fraud, failing to disclose offshore bank accounts, violating to register as a foreign agent, lying and witness tampering.
The agreement calls for Manafort to serve a maximum of 10 years in prison — six years years of supervised release — and to serve time behind bars from his separate Virginia and Washington cases concurrently, according to Politico. It will not release the veteran political strategist from jail, where he has been held for the last several months after federal prosecutors working for Mueller accused him of witness tampering in the run-up to his trial. No date for his sentencing has been announced, although the judge said Manafort will stay in prison until his sentencing, according to the Washington Post.
Upon entering his guilty plea, Manafort will forfeit his home in the Hamptons section of Long Island, New York; properties in New York, including his Trump Tower apartment; and a property on Edgewood Street in Alexandria, Virginia. He will also forfeit all of the money contained in four bank accounts and a life insurance policy. Deadlocked charges from an earlier trial will be dismissed.
In late August, Manafort had been found guilty on eight counts out of an 18-count indictment by a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on another 10 counts of fraud, and U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III declared a mistrial on those charges.
The 69-year-old GOP operative was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to properly disclose his foreign bank accounts. No date for his sentencing has been announced, but Manafort could face a maximum of 80 years behind the bars, though under sentence guidelines the term is likely to be between seven to 12 years.
Manafort was indicted in October 2017 along with his longtime business associate Rick Gates, who has since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating the pair's work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Manafort would face up to 305 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Mnafort joined Trump's presidential campaign in March 2016 and became his campaign chairman in May. He left the campaign in August, days after the New York Times and the Associated Press published reports of his business dealings with Russia-aligned leaders in Ukraine involving millions of dollars of undisclosed cash payments and undisclosed lobbying efforts in the U.S.
Trump has previously defended Manafort in comments to reporters, saying that his former campaign manager "has nothing to do with our campaign, but I will tell you I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago."
"You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time," the president continued. "He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for many other he worked for me, what, 49 days or something. Very short period of time."