A plea deal by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to cooperate with US prosecutors in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election suggests he could shed light on unanswered questions revolving around the campaign, legal experts said on Friday. The former includes money laundering, tax fraud, failing to file Foreign Bank Accounts, and the latter includes the charge of witness tampering.
A court filing Friday shows a plea hearing is set for later in the morning. Other counts were dropped.
Wearing a purple tie beneath his dark suit, Manafort looked glum as the hearing unfolded, standing next to his attorney, Richard Westling, with a court security officer standing immediately behind him.
Manafort was convicted in Virginia on charges that pre-dated his stint on the Trump campaign and involved his work with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
Even Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been one of Trump's most staunch defenders in the Russian Federation probe in numerous media appearances, conceded on Friday that Mueller's deal securing Manafort's cooperation was "a big win" and "big get" for the investigation into Trump's ties to Russian Federation, adding, "Potentially it opens up lots of doors that probably haven't been open before", according to an NBC News report. As part of his plea agreement, Manafort has admitted his guilt to the rest of the bank fraud counts in Virginia, and in return, the government will not retry the other counts in which a mistrial was declared.
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 also hid the millions of dollars he made from that work from the US government and asked witnesses to lie to the jury in the trial he has now avoided.More news: Gas explosions, fires strike Boston suburbs
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In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign".
That was a reference to his former fixer Cohen, who struck a plea deal that saw him admit an illegal pay-off to porn star Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford.
The White House says Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller is "totally unrelated" to President Donald Trump. They said "The President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth"-taking out the truth part because that is very much the problem".
The charges against Manafort are related to his Ukrainian consulting work - not Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which is the central issue in the special counsel's investigation.
Mueller's team could also pull out of the agreement at any time if they feel Manafort is not fully cooperating. The judge in the District of Columbia case ordered his detention on June 15 after reviewing evidence (pdf) that Manafort attempted to tamper with witnesses and determining that the defendant could not be trusted to comply with the judicial process.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is representing Trump in the Russian Federation probe, told Reuters on Friday that Manafort "knows nothing harmful to the president and the plea is the best evidence of that".
Manafort also knew the law firm was retained to represent Ukraine in connection with the Tymoshenko case and to provide training to prosecutors in the case, the information said.