Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Paul Manafort expected to plead guilty, avoid second trial

Paul Manafort expected to plead guilty, avoid second trial

Onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort indicated in a court filing on Friday that he had reached a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in which he will plead guilty to two criminal counts, allowing him to avoid a trial that had been set to begin next week.

Manafort is expected to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge that accused him of money laundering, tax fraud, and lying to investigators, according to a document filed in federal court.

A pre-trial conference scheduled in federal court in Washington, D.C., for 11 a.m. ET Friday was just changed on the Manafort case docket to an arraignment and plea agreement hearing, the most concrete confirmation of a plea agreement, after days of speculation and reporting based on unnamed sources.

As a potential witness to alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation during the 2016 campaign, Manafort became an early and sustained focus of the Mueller probe.

The move toward a guilty plea is another reversal for Manafort, who has fought vociferously - but unsuccessfully - against Mueller's probe.

The details of the plea deal ― including whether it indicates that Manafort has to cooperate with Mueller's team ― are not yet available.

Manafort would become the most prominent former Trump campaign official to plead guilty in Mueller's investigation, which has cast a shadow over Trump's presidency. The second count, for conspiracy to obstruct justice, concerns attempts to tamper with witnesses related to Manafort's foreign lobbying. Trump has denied colluding with the Russians and the Russians have denied interfering. Yanukovych was ousted from the country in 2014, and Manafort's consulting work in Ukraine dried up, according to evidence presented by the prosecutors in the Virginia trial.

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. The president has previously signaled he's sympathetic to Manafort's cause, and his attorney Rudy Giuliani told Politico a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon. He declined further comment until after the hearing.

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