White House says Manafort plea is 'totally unrelated' to Trump's 'victorious' campaign

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The guilty plea today by Paul Manafort is a "big win" for Robert Mueller that should alarm Donald Trump.

As Manafort's trial begins, one of the key witnesses against him will be Rick Gates, who has cut a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This has also been one of President Trump's greatest fears.

Under the terms of Friday's plea deal, prosecutors dropped the bulk of the charges against Manafort, filing new charges including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts. All were set to be tried in court in D.C. on September 24th. At the moment, there's no indication of what information Manafort might share with the special counsel's office. Manafort must also forfeit $46 million in assets to the government.

Manafort already faces an eight to 10 year sentence after the jury in a separate Virginia trial convicted him on August 21 of eight counts of financial wrongdoing.

Prosecutor Alexander Weissman called the settlement a "cooperation agreement" and said it now depends on Manafort's "successful cooperation". The prosecutors recommended a sentence of 17 to 21 years as part of the plea agreement (pdf). Trump's former personal lawyer/fixer (and RNC deputy finance chair) Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to 8 counts that include bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations (2 campaign finance counts implicate President Trump).

Seen here on the campaign trail with then-candidate Donald Trump, Paul Manafort worked in Washington for decades. All of them secured cooperating agreements with federal investigators.

Trump's Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a brief statement on the issue Friday. Trump himself has tried to downplay the role that Manafort played during his 2016 campaign. Both Manafort and Gates pleaded "Not Guilty" at the time.

Holding out on cooperation with Mueller's team for as long as he did only weakened Manafort's bargaining position.

It is impossible to know exactly what information Paul Manafort has to share with Mueller after agreeing to cooperate with his investigation in a plea deal.

We've since learned that Paul Manafort was wiretapped via FISA surveillance in 2014 as part of an investigation into Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

"This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign". He may have been party to campaign conversations about how to handle news of the Russian Federation investigation. Manafort reportedly met twice with Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign. He was present for campaign interactions with Russian operatives.

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The charges replace a raft of separate accusations that Manafort had failed to register as a foreign agent, lied to the government, laundered money and committed fraud.

After being indicted, Manafort was allowed to remain free on bail after posting a $10 million dollar bond. The contract was part of a plan to assert pro-Russia influence in USA politics and lasted from 2006-2009.

Some legal experts said that if Trump and his advisers knowingly solicited help from Russian Federation, they may have violated campaign finance laws, and a statute that criminalises conspiracies to impair the functioning of the USA government.

Several media outlets reported that Manafort is close to a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Donald Trump Jr, who organised the meeting with Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others, initially said it was mainly to discuss a programme on adoptions of Russian children.

Federal law, Section 30121 of Title 52, states that it is a crime for a foreign national to contribute money or other items of value to an American.

The plea agreement makes Manafort the latest member of Trump's inner circle to cooperate with the investigation that has loomed over his presidency.

Manafort and his former deputy Rick Gates were the first people charged in the special counsel's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 USA presidential election. Any move that Trump takes to go on the offensive will come with high political costs.

In the past year, Mueller has secured pleas from a former national security adviser who lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation 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.

What appears to be next are their potential American co-conspirators.

He also emphasized that Manafort is not a credible witness, having just admitted to obstruction of justice and lying.