What will Paul Manafort's cooperation mean for the Russia probe?

Paul Manafort

It's unclear whether any agreement with prosecutors would require him to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation.

Donald Trump's time in office is running out now that former campaign manager Paul Manafort has flipped and is cooperating with Russian Federation investigators, a Democratic strategist predicts.

Manafort's second trial was for charges regarding his lobbying work in Ukraine.

After news broke of Manafort's plea Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign".

Manafort had aggressively fought the charges against him and taken shots at his co-defendant, Rick Gates, who cut a deal with prosecutors earlier this year that included a cooperation agreement.

In brief responses, Manafort, 69, said he had sufficient time to consider his plea and that he was of sound mind.

That posture drew plaudits from Trump, who praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.

But depending on the extent of his cooperation and the degree to which prosecutors argue for reducing his sentence, Manafort could end up getting anywhere from a year to five years in prison, according to Mark Allenbaugh.

Over the past several months, Manafort's legal options slimmed as the special counsel notched several wins against him, including sending him to jail, securing several cooperators and gaining convictions. Today it comes courtesy of President Trump's former campaign manager.

Nothing linking President Trump personally to any criminal acts surfaced during the first Manafort trial in Virginia.

Prosecutors allege that Manafort illegally lobbied on behalf of the Ukrainian government after failing to register as a foreign agent and laundered over $30 million from his business and evaded over $15 million in taxes.

"It's not going to hurt him if he pleads guilty".

A Virginia jury convicted Manafort last month on bank and tax fraud charges.

What's extraordinary about this plea agreement, though, is the lack of protections Manafort has if that scenario were to play out.

Manafort will forfeit homes in NY and Virginia, and cough up the contents of five bank accounts, according to reports.

"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.

Prosecutors had accused him of hiding from U.S. tax authorities $16 million ($NZ24.4m) he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine to fund an opulent lifestyle and then lying to banks to secure $20m ($NZ30.5m) in loans.

The details of Manafort's plea were not immediately clear, including whether he would be providing any information to special counsel Robert Mueller as part of any deal.

Weissman referred to Manafort's plea deal as a cooperation agreement in court Friday, which could jeopardize his chances of a presidential pardon.

Mr Trump went so far as to suggest in a television interview that plea deals with prosecutors "should nearly be illegal".

Sandick said one reason Mueller's team might want to do so is "in part a response to criticism of the investigation".

Under the terms of the deal, Manafort was allowed to plead guilty to just two counts, though the crimes he admitted largely overlap with the conduct alleged in an indictment past year. Patten worked with Manafort's Russian associate Kilimnik through 2017 and admitted in court to illegally using a straw purchaser to buy Trump inaugural tickets for an oligarch. The feds obtain guilty pleas in more than 95% of the cases they bring because they are extremely careful to bring charges in only the strongest of cases.

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