Manafort To Cooperate With Justice Department
On Friday, Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference during the 2016 presidential election.
Manafort becomes the fifth staff member from the Trump presidential campaign to be charged with criminal and illegal activity. Speaking to a Washington D.C judge on Friday, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump said, “I pleaded guilty.” This came after he was asked what his approach would be in handling charges against him of obstruction of justice and conspiracy against the United States.
The guilty plea was over Manafort’s financial compensation for his work with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine before his involvement with the Trump Campaign. Prosecutors from Mueller team also highlighted that Manafort had been engaged with tax fraud, failure to register as a foreign agent, failure to report foreign bank accounts, lying, and witness tampering.
Friday’s courthouse ruling was not the Manafort’s first appearance in a U.S Court. Earlier in August, Manafort was called to a federal court in Virginia, where he was accused of hiding overseas bank accounts and defrauding banks. Since crimes were committed both in D.C and Virginia, two separate court cases were required.
The Trump Administration has taken measures to distance themselves with the court proceedings. Within hours after the announcement, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “This has absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign.”
Manafort’s cooperation with the Justice Department comes as a surprise amongst legal and political circles. However, with the Virginia court finding him guilty on the eight charges last month, the legal expenses have piled up, prompting Manafort to reconsider his strategy. Manafort’s decision to plead guilty could be beneficial to the Mueller investigation moving forward. Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor, noted that, “This is a big win for Mueller’s team. It now remains to be seen what Manafort can provide, but it is unlikely that prosecutors would have been willing to strike this deal unless they were already convinced that he has valuable information."
Despite no official sentencing date scheduled, legal experts predict Manafort could face up to 10 years in prison. With such drastic turn of events, scholars have floated that Manafort’s actions meant that he was possibly looking to shorten his prison sentence, or receive a pardon from President Donald Trump. Last month, President Trump said on Twitter, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family.” Since that statement, Trump has largely removed himself from the issue.