WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, reached a plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in which he will cooperate with federal prosecutors, fending off a second trial over his lobbying activity on behalf of foreign governments.
Manafort plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy, and prosecutors will drop remaining charges against him subject to his cooperation. Manafort will also forfeit assets, including four homes and money held in bank accounts.
In court, Manafort agreed to cooperate “fully and truthfully with the investigation” by Mueller, who for more than a year has led a probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election and whether there was any coordination by the Trump campaign.
His agreement to cooperate includes giving interviews and briefings to the special counsel, handing over documents and testimony in other proceedings.
“A tough day for Mr. Manafort, but he’s accepted responsibility,” said Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing. “And he wanted to make sure that his family remained safe and live a good life. He’s accepted responsibility, and this is for conduct that dates back many years, and everybody should remember that.”
What’s unclear is just what information Manafort will provide to Mueller’s team. He served on the Trump campaign chairman from March to August, 2016. He participated in a June, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower, set up by a British publicist, Rob Goldstone, that included several individuals with ties to the Kremlin. When Goldstone queried Donald Trump Jr. to set up the meeting, saying that the topic was that the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you I say I love it.” He has since insisted that the meeting produced nothing in the way of damaging information.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, released a statement in which he said that “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 and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
Trump praised Manafort last month for refusing the “break,” and contrasted his case to that of Michael Cohen, his former attorney. Cohen plead guilty to charges last month and, in court, implicated Trump in campaign finance violations.
Trump wrote then, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Manafort last month was found guilty of eight of 18 counts, including charges of tax fraud and bank fraud, by a federal jury in Virginia.
His associate, Rick Gates, plead guilty earlier this year and cooperated with prosecutors. He testified against Manafort at the trial last month.
The claims against Manafort had to do with work he did for the government of Ukraine when it was led by pro-Vladimir Putin leader Victor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014, and later to a party that supported Yanukovych. Manafort generated about $60 million in income as a result of the Ukraine work, prosecutors said, and laundered it through foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.
In the indictment, the prosecutors say that Manafort used offshore accounts to “purchase multi-million dollar properties in the United States. Manafort then borrowed millions of dollars in loans using these properties as collateral, thereby obtaining cash in the United States without reporting and paying taxes on the income.” Ultimately, he “cheated” the U.S. out of more than $15 million in taxes, according to the indictment, in a scheme that stretched from 2006 to 2017.
A big part of the upcoming trial was expected to focus on Manafort’s failure to register as a foreign agent, a requirement before lobbying U.S. officials.
Manafort directed his lobbyists to try to “write and disseminate” disparaging stories about former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s rival, in the U.S. media. Manafort told them that his goal was “to plant some stink on Tymo.”
Prosecutors also alleged that Manafort retained an unnamed law firm and P.R. firms to advance the Ukraine stories. They claim he “orchestrated a scheme” in 2012 to have what he called “[Ob]ama jews” to put pressure on the administration to disavow Tymoshenko and support Yanukovych.
“Manafort sought to undermine United States support for Tymoshenko by spreading stories in the United States that a senior Cabinet official (who had been a prominent critic of Yanukovych’s treatment of Tymoshenko) was supporting anti-Semitism because the official supported Tymoshenko, who in turn had formed a political alliance with a Ukraine party that espoused anti-Semitic views,” according to the indictment.
He coordinated with a senior Israeli government official to issue a written statement publicizing this story, prosecutors claim, and worked to spread the story in the U.S., prosecutors said.
“I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom,” Manafort wrote at the time, according to the indictment.