Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort to cooperate in Russian Federation probe

Paul Manafort looks on as Donald Trump appears at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. A superseding crim

Paul Manafort looks on as Donald Trump appears at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. A superseding crim

It is now unclear what Manafort has offered the special counsel in return for the lighter charge sheet, but multiple news outlets have speculated that it could be damaging information on Trump and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The case was brought by Mueller's team, which is probing potential crimes related to the 2016 election.

"He knows nothing harmful to the president and the plea is the best evidence of that", Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is representing Trump in the Russian Federation probe, told Reuters.

He was facing a second trial Monday on charges related to Ukrainian political consulting work, including failing to register as a foreign agent. When it came time to face the judge, he responded to her questions in a low voice with brief answers.

Manafort was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia. He also made sure to point out that the case was about conduct that goes back many years.

The charges do not relate to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and jurors are expected to only hear limited references to Manafort's role in the campaign.

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But he could be a key witness for the government.

But what Manafort knows about the Trump Tower Russian meeting may be only "the tip of the iceberg", according to Vox's worldwide security expert Alex Ward. "He could be called in front of a grand jury". "And Kilimnik was formerly Manafort's longtime business associate - and possibly has ties to Russian intelligence", Ward wrote.

For instance, Manafort was in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Russian nationals that was originally presented to Mr Trump's elder son as a chance to obtain damaging information from Russia on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The White House said in a statement that the agreement had "absolutely nothing to do" with the president or his 2016 campaign.

The White House says Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller is "totally unrelated" to President Donald Trump.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's attorney, echoed that.

Reuters reported that Manafort, 69, has agreed with Mueller to admit charges of conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice by witness tampering. "If I were a Democrat strategist ... and somebody said to me, 'Who do you want to be the Democrat nominee for president of the United States?' there's only one name I would choose ... and his name is Michael Bloomberg", Corey Lewandowski said last month.

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Another danger for Trump is that the Manafort deal will prompt others to sing to Mueller.

Manafort's defenders have long insisted that he would not cooperate with Mueller, and did not know any incriminating information against the president.

Even though Manafort and the Trump legal team were operating under a joint defence agreement, in which they would share relevant information, it appears the details of the deal caught Mr Trump's side flat-footed.

Manafort had other charges dropped but he could still go to prison, marking a steep fall from grace for a multi-millionaire who was often at Trump's side as the Republican candidate took US politics by storm in 2016.

Had he chose to cooperate with prosecutors well before that trial began - he had months to do so - the plea agreement would probably have looked a lot different, and more balanced, than the one filed in court Friday in D.C. Trump had saluted that stance, publicly praising him and suggesting Manafort had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone. Five other charges were dropped in the new court filing. Manafort admitted to leading a lobbying campaign for Ukraine for almost a decade and intentionally doing so without registering as a foreign agent.

Manafort had denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty.

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Manafort, however, continues to hold a literal "Trump card", which he may elect to play only at the conclusion of court proceedings in his case. Manafort conceded did this work covertly and intentionally covered his tracks, subsequently lying to the Justice Department about whether he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Court papers indicated that he could have faced between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison under federal guidelines.

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