Former Trump campaign chief Manafort to cooperate in Russian Federation probe

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Attorney Kevin Downing, with the defense team for Paul Manafort, is seen leaving federal court in Washington, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

A plea deal by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to cooperate with USA prosecutors in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election suggests he could shed light on unanswered questions revolving around the campaign, legal experts said on Friday.

Friday's announcement was a political blow to Trump's presidency ahead of November 6 congressional elections that will determine whether or not Republicans keep control of Congress. When asked about the possibility last month after Manafort was convicted by the first jury, Trump said, "I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does".

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. He also made sure to point out that the case was about conduct that goes back many years.

Since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel 16 months ago, his investigation has endured an unrelenting onslaught of attacks from the president and his allies.

Another 26 people and three businesses, in Russia, have been indicted, including 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers in 2016.

He had steadfastly refused to cooperate with Mueller even as the Virginia jury convicted him for hiding from US tax authorities $16 million he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine to fund an opulent lifestyle and then lying to banks to secure $20 million in loans.

He was also a close business associate of a man who USA intelligence believes has ties to Russian intelligence.

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"This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated". "In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT, with the assistance of Gates and Kilimnik, laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts".

Manafort's second trial was for charges regarding his lobbying work in Ukraine. He called Manafort a "good man" and said he had been unfairly targeted by the Justice Department-sparking questions of whether Trump might pardon him. The president has signalled that he's sympathetic to Manafort's cause.

Manafort has 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 did include an agreement to cooperate with the special counsel.

Manafort has agreed in his plea to cooperate with the federal probe to determine the extent that Russian government interests attempted to influence and alter the outcome of the 2016 election.

Today's reported plea deal makes Manafort the fifth team Trump member to admit criminal charges. As part of his plea agreement, Manafort has admitted his guilt to the rest of the bank fraud counts in Virginia, and in return, the government will not retry the other counts in which a mistrial was declared. A mistrial was declared on the remaining 10 charges after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

The charges accuse him of a conspiracy involving money laundering, tax fraud, failure to report foreign bank accounts, violating rules requiring registration of foreign agents, lying and witness tampering while performing consulting work with a Ukrainian political party.

He's also indicted former Manafort business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, now believed to be in Russia, for obstruction of justice and 25 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for interfering in the United States 2016 presidential election.

Manafort had denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty.

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