In a Washington DC federal court, Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort had been facing seven counts of foreign lobbying violations and witness tampering, relating to his time lobbying for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych over a decade ago.
Prosecutors said on Friday that Manafort will cooperate with Mueller’s investigation as part of his plea deal. Per the deal, Manafort can be questioned by Mueller’s team without his lawyer present.
In a separate trial in Virginia last month, a jury found Manafort guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud crimes. The Virginia jury was deadlocked on ten other counts, which will now be dismissed as part of Manafort’s plea bargain, along with the outstanding charges in the latest case. Manafort does, however, waive his right to appeal the eight convictions.
In the Virginia trial, Mueller’s team had sought to portray Manafort as a man of wealth, who lived a life of luxury at the expense of the American taxpayer.
While he was prosecuted by Mueller – originally tasked with uncovering alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016 – none of Manafort’s charges relate to collusion involving the Trump campaign.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Friday that Manafort’s deal “had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”
Documents submitted to the court by Mueller on Friday revealed that far from cosying up to a ‘pro-Russian’ president, as Yanukovych has often been described, Manafort lobbied for closer ties between Ukraine and the EU. As part of his lobbying efforts, a member of Mueller’s group met with then-President Obama and Vice President Biden to deliver a message of “not letting the Russians steal Ukraine from the west.”
Mueller reports that a member of Manafort's group met with none other than President Obama and VP Biden in May 2013 and "delivered the message of 'Not Letting the Russians Steal Ukraine From The West.'" Odd message from a supposed Kremlin stooge. pic.twitter.com/XO21rMdkJ1
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) September 14, 2018
With Manafort possibly facing decades in prison, President Trump has vaguely teased the possibility of extending a pardon to his old campaign chairman, telling Fox & Friends’ Ainsley Earhardt last month that he has “great respect for what he has done in terms of what he has gone through.”
Trump would be well within his rights to pardon Manafort, but Democratic lawmakers have cautioned him against such a move. Any attempt to pardon Manafort, Senator Ron Whyden (D-Oregon) argued, “would be a gross assault on the rule of law, and constitute high crimes and misdemeanors” – grounds for impeachment.
Prior to President Trump taking the stage at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, in August, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to Twitter and warned the president that he better not talk pardons for Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.
“My message to the president: you better not talk about pardons for Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort tonight, or anytime in the future,” Schumer wrote.
My message to the president: you better not talk about pardons for Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort tonight, or anytime in the future.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 21, 2018
Schumer’s warning came on the same day that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to eight criminal counts and admitted to campaign finance violations including payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
The Washington Examiner reports:
“I understand the president’s on his way to a rally. He better not talk about pardons for Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort tonight or anytime in the future,” Schumer said during a press conference while discussing his meeting with Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court pick.
Schumer declined to delve into specifics on the situations involving the president’s personal attorney and former campaign manager, citing his meeting with Kavanaugh. The meeting wrapped only 45 minutes before his press conference to discuss the Supreme Court nominee.
Earlier, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts, including one of excessive campaign contribution per the direction of a candidate for federal office.
Manafort, one of Trump’s campaign managers during his 2016 campaign, was found guilty on eight counts — five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts in 2012.
Trump addressed the situations involving Manafort upon arrival in West Virginia for a campaign rally in Charleston, saying he feels “very badly” for his former campaign chief.
“This has nothing to do with Russian collusion,” Trump said calling the Manafort conviction a “disgrace.” “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort … It was not the original mission, believe me. It was something very much different.”