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Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, close to plea deal: reports

WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort is set for a status hearing Friday amid reports that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman was nearing a plea deal to avoid trial on charges stemming from work he did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine.

Several media outlets reported that Manafort is close to a plea deal with federal prosecutors. It was unclear whether such an agreement would include his cooperation in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling during Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The developments were first reported by ABC News, which said details of the deal would be announced in court on Friday. The network cited three unidentified sources with knowledge of the deal.

It’s also unclear how any deal would affect Manafort’s pursuit of an eventual pardon from Trump. 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.

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 did include an agreement to cooperate with the special counsel.

With a plea deal, Manafort would avoid a trial that was set to last at least three weeks and posed the potential of adding years onto the 7 to 10 years he is already facing from his conviction in Virginia last month.

There, 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, done through 2014, on behalf of then-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 is 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 filed in the case indicated that he could have faced between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison under federal guidelines.

The charges do not relate to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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