Ex Trump aide Paul Manafort to cooperate in Russia probe

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Ex Trump aide Paul Manafort to cooperate in Russia probe

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US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman has agreed to cooperate in the special counsel investigation into possible campaign collusion with Russia.

In a plea deal to avert a second trial on money laundering and illegal lobbying charges, Paul Manafort agreed on Friday to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and another count of obstruction of justice.

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

Prosecutor Andrew Weissman said in a federal court in Washington, DC that Manafort had struck a “cooperation agreement”, but did not elaborate on the details of the deal.

Information submitted to court by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicate seven charges in a previous indictment against Manafort were reduced to two. 

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The move comes three weeks after Manafort, 69, was convicted of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia.

Those were among the first charges stemming from Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In the Washtington case, prosecutors were set to lay out in great detail Manafort’s political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

According to the court filing, the charge of conspiracy against the US includes money laundering, tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, and acting as an unregistered lobbyist for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

The second count, for conspiracy to obstruct justice, concerns attempts to tamper with witnesses related to Manafort’s foreign lobbying.

Later on Friday, the White House said Manafort’s decision to plead guilty to two criminal counts and to cooperate with the special counsel’s probe had “nothing to do” with Trump’s election victory almost two years ago.

“It is totally unrelated,” said Sarah Sanders said, White House spokesperson.

Trump has denied colluding with the Russians and the Russians have denied interfering.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now representing Trump in the Russia probe, told Reuters news agency on Friday that a guilty plea to avoid a second trial would not crush Manafort’s chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon.

“It’s not going to hurt him if he pleads guilty. Usually it helps you get a pardon down the road. It shows you’ve admitted your guilt,” he said before a deal was announced.

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