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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this May 23, 2018, file photo, Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the Federal District Court after a hearing, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed Friday to cooperate with the special counsel's Russia investigation as he pleaded guilty to federal charges and avoided a second trial that could have exposed him to even greater punishment.

The deal gives special counsel Robert Mueller a key cooperator who led the Trump election effort for a crucial stretch during the 2016 presidential campaign. The result also ensures the investigation will extend far beyond the November congressional elections despite entreaties from the president's lawyers that Mueller bring his probe to a close.

It is unclear what information Manafort is prepared to provide to investigators about President Donald Trump or that could aid Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But the plea nonetheless makes Manafort the latest associate of Trump to admit guilt and cooperate with investigators in hopes of leniency.

In the past year, Mueller has secured pleas from a former national security adviser who lied to the FBI about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador, a campaign aide who broached the idea of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and another aide who was indicted alongside Manafort but ultimately turned on him. The president's former personal lawyer has separately pleaded guilty in New York.

Friday's deal, to charges tied to Ukrainian political consulting work but unrelated to the campaign, was struck just days before Manafort was to have stood trial for a second time.

He was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia and faces seven to 10 years in prison in that case. The two conspiracy counts he pleaded guilty to on Friday carry up to five years in prison, though Manafort's sentence will ultimately depend on his cooperation.

He smiled broadly as he entered the courtroom Friday but gave terse and barely audible answers during questioning from the judge.

"He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He's accepted responsibility. This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that," Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, said.

The cooperation deal requires Manafort to provide whatever information the government asks of him, though it does not specify what if anything prosecutors hope to receive about Trump.

Manafort was among the participants, for instance, in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians and the president's oldest son and son-in-law that was arranged so the campaign could receive derogatory information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. A grand jury used by Mueller has heard testimony about the meeting.

He was also a close business associate of a man who U.S. intelligence believes has ties to Russian intelligence. And while he was working on the Trump campaign, emails show Manafort discussed providing private briefings for a wealthy Russian businessman close to Vladimir Putin.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Manafort case was unrelated to President Donald Trump.

"This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."

Added Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani: "Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign."

Under the terms of the deal, Manafort was allowed to plead guilty to just two conspiracy counts, though the crimes he admitted cover the same conduct alleged in an indictment last year. Manafort's homes in New York City, in the Hamptons and in Virginia as well as money from his bank accounts and life insurance policies may be seized by the government as part of the deal.

It's unclear how the deal might affect any Manafort pursuit of a pardon from Trump. The president has signaled that he's sympathetic to Manafort's cause. In comments to Politico before the plea deal, Giuliani said a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon.

Manafort has aggressively fought the charges against him and taken shots at his co-defendant, Rick Gates, who cut a deal with prosecutors earlier this year that included a cooperation agreement.

At the time of Gates' plea, Manafort issued a statement saying he "had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence." And during his Virginia trial in August, Manafort's lawyers spent considerable time painting Gates as a liar, embezzler, philanderer and turncoat who would say anything to get a lighter prison sentence.

Pleading guilty allows Manafort to avoid a trial that was expected to last at least three weeks and posed the potential of adding years onto the seven to 10 years he is already facing under federal sentencing guidelines from his conviction in Virginia.

A jury found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.

In the Washington case, prosecutors were set to lay out in great detail Manafort's political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

Prosecutors say that Manafort directed a large scale lobbying operation in the U.S. for Ukrainian interests without registering with the Justice Department as required by the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. Manafort was accused of concealing from the IRS tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from his Ukrainian patrons and conspiring to launder that money through offshore accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere.

Manafort had denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Even after his indictment last October, though, prosecutors say he continued to commit crimes by tampering with witnesses. The discovery of his witness contacts led to a superseding indictment in June and Manafort's jailing ahead of his trial.

In addition to the witness tampering counts, Manafort had been formally charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiring to launder money and lying to the FBI and Justice Department about the nature of his work. Court papers indicated that he could have faced between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison under federal guidelines.

Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Comments

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  • RobertBolt
    September 14, 2018 at 9:13 a.m.

    Trump supporters must think Trump hired a bunch of cowardly sissies because they would rather plead guilty to charges based (in the supporters' minds) on the incompetent Mueller's transparently refutable evidence rather than face trial. I wonder who understands their situation more accurately: the self-confessed criminals throughout the Trump campaign and administration or the wilfully stumped Trumpers.

  • condoleezza
    September 14, 2018 at 11:10 a.m.

    Trump really did hire the "best," eh?

  • Inquirer51
    September 14, 2018 at 11:13 a.m.

    Donald Trump should be very, very afraid. I'm pretty sure he cannot pardon himself. Even if he could pardon himself on a federal charge, I believe the State of New York could come after him if any illegal activities occurred there. Nixon had to resign for less than this.

  • mrcharles
    September 14, 2018 at 11:17 a.m.

    Guess at the very least we can say trump was wrong about the "strong" Manafort!

  • 3WorldState1
    September 14, 2018 at 12:46 p.m.

    Thoughts and prayers

  • PopMom
    September 14, 2018 at 12:51 p.m.

    Oh, the treachery!!! Trump is having a temper tantrum now!

  • ARMNAR
    September 14, 2018 at 2:16 p.m.

    A number of conspicuous absences here. Go figure.

  • BoudinMan
    September 14, 2018 at 4:14 p.m.

    Mueller is like Gary Cooper as the marshall in "High Noon." trump is like the dirty, sneaky, sniveling little coward curled up in the fetal position in the corner. So, we now have trump's campaign mgr., Manafort, working for Mueller. trump's deputy campaign mgr., Gates, working for Mueller. trump's National Security Adviser, Flynn, working for Mueller. trump's personal attorney, Cohen, working for Mueller. Who here believes Crazy Uncle Rudy, and Sarah Huck-a-liar that there's nothing to see here that involves trump?

  • Inquirer51
    September 14, 2018 at 4:22 p.m.

    If Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the sun was shining, I'd bring my raincoat. I have no idea why Rudy Guliani wants to be Trump's lawyer mouthpiece, but Trump will throw Rudy to the wolves in the end.

  • carpenterretired
    September 14, 2018 at 6:05 p.m.

    Well the old timers said birds of a feather flock together ,but looks like one of the birds just chickened out and is singing like a canary ,perhaps the old orange rooster will end up in the stew pot .

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