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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Facing more jail time, Paul Manafort turns on Trump and agrees to help Mueller

The 69-year-old pleaded guilty to additional charges but agreed to offer up evidence

Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort (C), with his wife Kathleen Manafort (R), arrives for arraignment at the Federal Courthouse in Virginia. EPA
Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort (C), with his wife Kathleen Manafort (R), arrives for arraignment at the Federal Courthouse in Virginia. EPA

For months Donald Trump’s former campaign chief stood firm, refusing plea agreements through one trial and during the run-up to a second, even as other aides and insiders “flipped” and offered to co-operate with prosecutors.

That changed on Friday when Paul Manafort – perhaps the most important witness yet – struck a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller and promised to offer evidence in his investigation into Russian collusion into the last US election in return for avoiding a second trial that could have exposed him to more prison time.

The agreement sparked a frenzied guessing game in Washington about just how much he might know.

The White House immediately distanced itself from the man who ran the Trump campaign for three months, and whose decision almost certainly extends the investigation into Russian meddling far beyond November’s midterm elections.

It also offers investigators a source of information who would have been well placed to know about any contacts between the campaign and Russian officials.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, moved quickly to quell speculation about how much Mr Manafort might know.

“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement. “The reason: The president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

Mr Manafort, 69, had stayed loyal and silent throughout the unravelling scandal. It was one of the trademarks of a man who made millions by representing a motley crew of African big men and eastern European autocrats throughout his lobbying career.

Mr Trump had praised his stance, suggesting the former aide had been treated worse than Al Capone, the gangster. Mr Giuliani had floated the possibility of a pardon.

That took Mr Manafort all the way through a trial in Virginia last month in which he was convicted of eight financial crimes, leaving him facing seven to 10 years in prison.

But on Friday he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, which could carry sentences of up to five years – although that will now depend on his level of co-operation.

His attorney, Kevin Downing, said he was motivated by personal factors.

"He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He's accepted responsibility,” he said. “This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that.”

The agreement came days before he was due to stand trial on charges relating to his work for Ukrainian politicians.

It commits him to provide any information asked of him, to testify and even work undercover if necessary.

Prosecutors will want to quiz him about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians when Mr Trump’s eldest son expected to get derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, who had won the Democratic nomination.

“The expectations around Manafort's cooperation are likely at a level beyond anyone else to date who has agreed to cooperate,” said Jacob Frenkel, a Washington lawyer not involved in the case. “Whether those expectations will be met is the great unknown.”

Mr Manafort was also a close business associate of a man believed to be connected to Russian intelligence. And when he worked on the campaign, emails show Mr Manafort discussed providing private briefings for a Russian businessman close to Vladimir Putin.

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