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Spotlight: Trump’s ex-campaign chief Manafort to cooperate with Mueller

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) — Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, will cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller “fully and truthfully” as part of his guilty plea deal, a prosecutor said in Washington D.C. federal court on Friday.

Speaking at the plea hearing in court, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said that Manafort has agreed to cooperate with investigators, as part of the 17-page deal in which Manafort pleaded guilty to only two out of seven charges.

The deal will not release Manafort from prison, but calls for an up to ten-year cap on Manafort’s jail time though it may not include any likely sentence for his conviction of eight counts last month in Virginia.

The deal will also dismiss deadlocked charges from last month’s mistrial of other ten charges in Virginia federal court, the report added.

In court on Friday, U.S. District Court judge Amy Berman Jackson asked if the veteran Republican lobbyist understood what rights he’s giving up.

“I understand.” Manafort answered, “I plead guilty.”

“Has anybody forced you, coerced you or threatened you in any way?” she asked later.

“No,” Manafort replied.

Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing told reporters after the hearing that his client “wanted to make sure his family remained safe and live a good life.”

“He has accepted responsibility.” Downing said of Manafort.

However, so far all the charges against Manafort are not related to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as the White House immediately pointed out in a quick response.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a brief statement.

“It is totally unrelated.” she said.

Trump has not yet tweeted any comments about Manafort’s plea deal. The several tweets he issued on Friday so far were focused on the rescue of Hurricane Florence which made landfall in the U.S. East Coast Friday morning, causing severe damage.

According to documents filed in court prior to the hearing, Manafort intends to plead guilty to two charges of the seven he faced at his second trial: conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct justice.

“Manafort cheated the United States out of over 15 million dollars in taxes,” the document says, referring to the veteran Republican lobbyist’s income in secret offshore accounts.

Also as part of the plea deal, the government plans to seize four properties, including a nearly 2-million-dollar house in Virginia owned by one of his daughters. The deal also calls for forfeiture of four financial accounts and a life insurance policy.

Local analysts say Manafort’s cooperation with Mueller could provide new clues or evidence over the ongoing probe into alleged Russia meddling into the 2016 U.S. elections. However, the guilty plea would allow him to avoid his second trial scheduled to begin later this month and last for weeks, which will save Trump from relative bad headlines before Nov. 6 midterm elections.

All the charges against Manafort largely stem from his time working for a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine years before the 2016 U.S. elections. As a result, they do not directly address any alleged collusion between Trump associates or officials and the Russian government, which the Mueller team has been investigating since last year.

Trump has repeatedly attacked the Mueller probe as a “rigged witch hunt.”

Manafort, 69, was a veteran Republican lobbyist. He joined Trump’s campaign team in March 2016 and spent three months as Trump’s campaign chairman until mid August of that year.

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