Manafort plea deal begs key question: What does he know?

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two criminal charges on September 14 as part of a deal with federal prosecutors that concluded the second trial for the veteran political operative.

Paul Manafort has pleaded guilty to 1 count of conspiracy against the United States (money laundering, working as an unregistered foreign agent, and lying to investigators) and 1 count of obstruction of justice (witness tampering).

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has pleaded guilty to two federal charges as part of a cooperation deal with prosecutors.

The scope of the cooperation was not immediately clear. Trump himself has tried to downplay the role that Manafort played during his 2016 campaign. The White House says this doesn't have anything to do with the president whatsoever.

The White House says Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller is "totally unrelated" to President Donald Trump. On Friday morning, however, that refusal came to an abrupt end.

The plea deal allows Manafort to avoid a second trial scheduled to begin next week in Washington.

"I do", he said repeatedly, waiving each right. Nothing linking President Trump personally to any criminal acts surfaced during the first Manafort trial in Virginia. In DC, his seven criminal counts are rewritten as two.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissman said in court Friday that Manafort had struck a "cooperation agreement".

Mueller's team told the court that Manafort had previewed what information he could offer, leading to the deal.

The plea deal would allow Manafort to avoid a second trial that had been scheduled to start next week in Washington. It's still not clear what will happen to those charges in Virginia federal court.

There's been plenty of speculation that Manafort could be rescued by a presidential pardon.

In a statement Friday, the President's attorney Rudy Giuliani reiterated that confidence. The reason: "the President did nothing wrong", said Giuliani. The initial version, which was quickly revised, included "Paul Manafort will tell the truth" as part of the quote.

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But Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has received a lot of flak over the previous year for defending Trump at times despite being a self-described liberal, says Team Trump should be deeply concerned about Manafort's agreement to fully cooperate with Mueller investigation, though he stressed that it's unlikely Manafort would have any evidence that could lead to impeachment.

It is unclear what information Manafort is prepared to provide to investigators about President Donald Trump or that could aid Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It could be directly related to the Trump campaign or merely tangential. His conviction last month in Virginia guaranteed that.

The Associated press reported this story.

Overall, Manafort forfeited five properties, three bank accounts and a life insurance policy. He concealed the income through a network of foreign banks and shell companies.

One of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's longtime objectives in his investigation has always been to flip Paul Manafort into a cooperating witness.

The move allows Manafort to avoid a second criminal trial and ends his more than year-long fight against investigators in the Russian Federation probe.

In the past year, Mueller has secured pleas from a former national security adviser who lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador, a campaign aide who broached the idea of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and another aide who was indicted alongside Manafort but ultimately turned on him.

Manafort attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russian representatives and top campaign officials, including Trump's son and son-in-law, who expected to receive derogatory information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Given his direct involvement in the Trump campaign, including episodes being scrutinized by Mueller, Manafort could be positioned to provide key insight for investigators working to establish whether the campaign coordinated with Russian Federation.

Manafort had long resisted the idea of cooperating even as prosecutors stacked additional charges against him in Washington and Virginia. The allegations revealed last October reiterated a year of news reports that Manafort had secretly funneled income from Ukrainian lobbying contacts for years.

Then in February, prosecutors filed new mortgage and tax fraud charges against him weeks after they discovered he was offering to secure his bail with homes tied up in his alleged mortgage fraud.

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