U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to two criminal counts and will cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
As part of the cooperation deal with Mueller, Manafort will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
In a statement, the White House distanced Trump from the veteran Republican operative who helped get him elected against the odds in 2016.
"This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said of the Manafort news on Friday. "It is totally unrelated."
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Manafort has already been convicted of eight counts of tax fraud and other financial crimes by a jury in the state of Virginia. He is about to face a second trial, on a new set of financial crime allegations, before a court in Washington, and a plea deal would allow him to avoid that situation. It could also influence the amount of time he would sit in jail for the charges on which he has already been found guilty.
Jury selection was due to begin on Monday on charges including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering.
Manafort's decision could be a blow to Trump, who last month praised his former aide for not entering into an agreement with prosecutors, as the president's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen had.
Writing on Twitter on August 22, Trump said, "Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal. Such respect for a brave man!"
ABC News reported on Thursday that Manafort had tentatively agreed to a plea deal.
Manafort ran Trump’s presidential campaign during the first half of 2016. He played a key role in securing Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party at the party’s national convention. He also participated in the famous June 2016 “Trump Tower Meeting” which included senior staffers of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer with close ties to the Kremlin. The meeting is being investigated by Mueller’s team.
Manafort worked for years as a lobbyist and a political consultant in Eastern Europe. He made millions from business partnerships there, including with Ukrainian politicians considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is not clear yet if under the terms of the reported plea deal, Manafort will provide Mueller’s investigators with new information relevant to their ongoing probe.