President Trump's former top campaign official, faced with the daunting possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison, has entered a plea agreement with Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.
Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday morning to conspiracy to defraud the United States, concerning money laundering; and obstruction of justice, related to witness tampering. The maximum sentence on the two counts is 10 years, according to MSNBC.
In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop a number of other charges. CNBC reported that they included tax fraud, failure to report foreign bank accounts and failure to register as a foreign agent.
The plea deal sparked speculation that Manafort has consented to cooperating in the investigation of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. If he does “flip” on the president, Manafort will join several other Trump associates who are believed to have turned state's evidence. Among them are former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Trump's long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen; and the chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg.
Trump, who has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” insists there was “no collusion.” He claims he did not know about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York City involving Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer.
Before joining the campaign, Manafort was a consultant to a Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Many of the original charges against the defendant related to his actions while serving in that capacity.
The plea deal came just three days before jury selection was to begin for Manafort's second trial. He was convicted on eight counts, including bank fraud and tax fraud, in a previous case in August that could result in a nine-year prison term. The jury was unable to reach a consensus on 10 other charges. It is unclear whether Manafort will serve his two sentences concurrently.
As part of the agreement with Mueller, Manafort is to surrender ownership of a home in the upscale Hamptons area of Long Island, New York; and other real estate in New York City and Alexandria, Va. He also must forfeit funds from four bank accounts and a life insurance policy.
Manafort was free on house arrest after prosecutors filed the first charges. He went to jail in June when authorities learned he had been contacting witnesses in his case in an effort to influence their testimony.
Trump continues to defend his former campaign chairman, causing many to wonder whether he will pardon him. “I must tell you that Paul Manafort is a good man,” the president said last month. “He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with a lot of different people over the years. And I feel very sad about that.”
Court information filed on Friday, referring to Manafort's work for former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, accused him of conspiring with others to “act as unregistered agents of a foreign government and political party.”
Prosecutors said Manafort made more than $60 million for his work in Ukraine. They wrote that from 2006-16, he laundered money “through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” to conceal his earnings from the Internal Revenue Service.
Manafort allegedly “funneled millions of dollars in payments into foreign nominee companies and bank accounts, opened by him and his underlings in nominee names and in various foreign countries, including Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United Kingdom.”
The documents state that the defendant “hid the existence of the foreign companies and bank accounts, falsely and repeatedly reporting to his tax preparers and to the United States that he had no foreign bank accounts.”
Manafort also “concealed from the United States his work as an agent of, and millions of dollars in payments from, Ukraine and its political parties and leaders,” prosecutors charged. They said that when they initially confronted Manafort on the accusations, he “responded with a series of false and misleading statements.”
Manafort allegedly “used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” Court documents state that he “spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services for himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to United States vendors.”
The defendant was accused of having “used these offshore accounts to purchase multi-million dollar properties in the United States,” and then borrowing “millions of dollars in loans using these properties as collateral (to) obtain cash in the United States without reporting and paying taxes on the income.”
Prosecutors claimed that Manafort “defrauded the institutions that loaned money on these properties so that they would lend him more money at more favorable rates than he would otherwise be able to obtain.” In the process, he purportedly “cheated the United States out of over $15 million in taxes.”