Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will cooperate with the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a dramatic turnaround that deals the USA president a setback.
The move comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation increasingly pressures the White House.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was its chairman from May until he resigned that August after reports about his lobbying work with the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party became public.
Under the terms of the deal, Manafort faces a possible maximum prison sentence of about 10 years, though that doesn't include any likely sentence for his conviction last month in Virginia.
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 a year ago. But former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had long eluded Mueller's team, with his resistance to a plea deal so intense that some in law enforcement figured he must know he would soon receive a pardon.
The deal came after three days of negotiations between Manafort's attorneys and the special prosecutor's office, with the deal Friday coming on the eve of Manafort's trial in Washington, which was to open Monday morning. While he was working on the campaign, emails show Manafort discussed providing private briefings for a wealthy Russian businessman close to Vladimir Putin.
However, the plea nonetheless makes Manafort the latest associate of Trump, who is known to place a premium on loyalty among subordinates, to admit guilt and cooperate with investigators in hopes of leniency. Asked last week if he was anxious about going to prison, the president's loyal son said: "I'm not because I know what I did, and I'm not anxious about any of that". Highly conflicted Bob Mueller & the 17 Angry Democrats are using this Phony issue to hurt us in the Midterms.
There has been speculation that President Trump could pardon Manafort but that is now moot.More news: 83-foot wave measured by satellite as Hurricane Florence approaches
"This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that", Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, said.
The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, quickly sought to distance Trump from the plea deal.
"Between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort conspired with Richard W. Gates (Gates), Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik), and others to act, and acted, as unregistered agents of a foreign government and political party".
- He has information about what happened in the Trump campaign, but that information doesn't touch the president directly. But there is nothing in Manafort's deal that explicitly exempts him from sharing campaign information, and people who cut such plea deals don't, as a rule, get to pick and choose what information they share; they have to share it all.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Manafort case was unrelated to Trump. "Bada bing bada boom", Manafort wrote in an email to one his employees in his consulting firm, identified as Person D1 in the court documents.
Manafort spoke the words, "I plead guilty", in a Washington, DC courtroom, and accepted a requirement that he answer "fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly" questions about "any and all matters" that Mueller wants to ask about.
Manafort will be sentenced after he completes his cooperation with the special counsel, which may well affect the length of the sentence.
Trump hasn't specifically mentioned Manafort on his Twitter feed since the deal was announced, but in between messages about Hurricane Florence, the president squeezed in several posts condemning what he calls the "Rigged Russian Witch Hunt".