President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes at a hearing Friday morning, officials said.
The planned plea, if accepted by a judge, would short-circuit his second trial scheduled to begin later this month in the District on charges of money laundering and lobbying violations.
The details of Manafort’s plea were not immediately clear, including whether he would be providing any information to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as part of any deal.
People familiar with the plea discussions have previously said that Manafort has no intention of cooperating with Mueller, so it’s possible any prospective agreement could allow him to admit guilt without providing information to investigators.
A hearing in the case scheduled for Friday morning was pushed back, according to the federal court’s electronic filing system.
The move toward a guilty plea is another reversal for Manafort, who has fought vociferously — but unsuccessfully — against Mueller’s probe. The 69-year-old political consultant was convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on charges of bank and tax fraud.
In-person jury selection for his Washington trial was set to start Monday, with opening statements scheduled for Sept. 24 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Any deal would not be final until Manafort admits guilt before the judge, who would need to approve the plea.
Another conviction would cap a dramatic fall for the international power broker and confidant of Republican presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan. Manafort’s decision could be mixed news for Trump, who tapped the consultant to serve as his campaign chairman in June 2016 as he was securing the GOP presidential nomination.
If Manafort were to cooperate with Mueller, that could provide investigators new evidence or leads to chase; a guilty plea, however, would prevent weeks worth of headlines about the trial in the month before congressional elections.
The longtime lobbyist resigned from his position as campaign chairman in August 2016 amid increasing scrutiny of his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
Over a 40-year career, Manafort redefined and expanded Washington’s influence industry domestically and internationally, parlaying successful campaigns into lobbying opportunities. But by the mid-2000s, there were signs that his consulting career had slumped, and at times his finances appeared to be shaky. It was in Ukraine that he revived both — in ways prosecutors say violated the law.
Both cases brought against Manafort by the special counsel stem from his work in Ukraine. The jury in Virginia found that Manafort hid millions of dollars he made in Ukraine to avoid paying taxes, and then lied to get loans when the political party that was paying him was ousted from power and the funding dried up.
In the trial scheduled in Washington, Manafort faces charges of conspiring against the United States, money laundering, failing to register as a lobbyist, making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice by trying to influence witnesses.
Manafort had the choice to consolidate both cases into one but declined. He had been jailed since June as a result of the witness tampering charges.
He has yet to be sentenced in Virginia, where legal experts say he faces 8 to 10 years in prison under federal guidelines on the eight of 18 counts on which he was convicted. A mistrial was declared on the remaining 10 charges after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.
It’s unclear how a guilty plea might alter his ultimate sentence, and some lawyers have questioned whether he is focused on winning a reprieve elsewhere. Law enforcement officials have come to suspect that Manafort hopes he will be pardoned by the president, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Trump has sought advice from his lawyers on the possibility of pardoning Manafort and other aides accused of crimes, his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani previously told The Washington Post, and was counseled against pardoning anyone involved in the ongoing Mueller probe. The president agreed to wait at least until the investigation concludes, Giuliani has said.
Several defendants have cooperated or pleaded guilty in connection with the special counsel probe, including Manafort’s former right-hand man Rick Gates; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who worked with Manafort; W. Samuel Patten, who admitted arranging for a Ukrainian businessman to illegally donate to Trump’s inauguration; and former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail last week after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.
The decision by Trump’s onetime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last month in a federal investigation in Manhattan particularly angered the president, who denounced him as a “flipper.”
Earlier this year, Manafort derided Gates, his former business partner, for striking a deal with prosecutors that provided him leniency in exchange for testimony against his former partner.
“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort said in February.
Kevin M. Downing, an attorney for Manafort, also said earlier this summer there was “no chance” his client would flip and cooperate with prosecutors.
That posture drew plaudits from Trump, who praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.
Prosecutors “applied tremendous pressure on him and . . . he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’ ” the president tweeted last month. “Such respect for a brave man!”
Tom Hamburger and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.
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