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Manafort agrees to cooperate with special counsel, pleads guilty to reduced charges

By Sharon LaFraniere

WASHINGTON – Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, agreed Friday to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Washingon, Manafort entered guilty pleas on two charges. Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that there was a cooperation agreement with Manafort.

It was not immediately clear what information he might be providing to prosecutors or how the plea agreement might affect Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related questions about possible collusion by the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice by Trump.

As part of the deal, the government will seize four of Manafort’s homes as well as the money in a number of bank accounts, the documents say.

In documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, prosecutors from Mueller’s office charged Manafort with one count of conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort pleaded guilty to those charges.

The prosecutors dropped five other charges encompassing money laundering and violations of a lobbying disclosure law.

Manafort was convicted last month on bank and tax fraud charges after a trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He was scheduled to face a second trial on seven separate but related charges in Washington starting next week. The charges stem from work he did as a political consultant in Ukraine.

The plea deal is another unsettling development for Trump. For months, Trump has praised Manafort for fighting the charges. In private discussions with his lawyers, Trump has raised the possibility of pardoning Manafort.

It is not clear what information Manafort might have that would be valuable to Mueller’s investigation. Manafort served in several roles in the Trump campaign, and was present for the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between a number of campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who was thought to be offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So far, four former Trump aides have pleaded guilty to charges related to the special counsel investigation: Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer; Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser; Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman; and George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser.

The president railed against plea deals in general after Cohen pleaded guilty last month to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges, implicating Trump in the cover-up of a potential sex scandal during the 2016 presidential race. Trump said that trading information on someone else for lesser charges or a lighter sentence “almost ought to be outlawed.”

Manafort, who has repeatedly insisted that he would not cooperate with the special counsel, has been reassessing his legal risks after last month’s trial. He was found guilty in that case of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account, crimes that legal experts predicted were likely to result in a prison term of six to 12 years.

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