WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two federal crimes and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, a dramatic turnaround for the former Trump campaign chairman who now becomes a powerful asset for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Manafort, who has long struck a defiant posture toward Mueller, becomes the fifth associate of President Trump’s to plead guilty in connection with the special counsel’s probe, which is examining, among other things, any potential coordination between Moscow and Trump campaign officials in 2016.
None of Manafort’s crimes that he admitted Friday — or was convicted of in a separate trial in Virginia last month — relate to such coordination. But his cooperation agreement is far-reaching, requiring him to be “fully debriefed,” provide relevant materials, “participate in undercover activities” and testify whenever requested by Mueller’s office.
Manafort, who becomes the fifth associate of President Trump to plead guilty in connection with the Mueller investigation, is admitting to conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Manafort could help prosecutors as they piece together information about Russia and whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey in May 2017. For one thing, Manafort is the first person to cooperate with Mueller who also attended a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that has drawn the special counsel’s interest. That session included Manafort; Donald Trump Jr.; Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner; and several Russians who had promised incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and in a brief telephone interview Friday said that the Manafort case had nothing to do with him. “I got hit with an artificial witch hunt that should never have happened,” Trump said.
Andrew Duehren, Rebecca Ballhaus and Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.
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