Paul Manafort becomes the fifth Trump campaign team member to plead guilty to criminal charges
Following his conviction on eight criminal counts in a federal court in Virginia last month, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort faced a new trial on another full docket of charges. On Friday morning, we learned that the second trial would be short-circuited. Instead of facing a jury to evaluate whether he had laundered money or committed bank fraud or filed false reports on his lobbying, the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced that it had reached a plea agreement with Manafort. In addition to the original eight charges, Manafort admitted to another two, sparing him from another trial.
In so doing, though, Manafort increased a metric that efficiently summarizes the effectiveness of the Mueller probe. He became the fifth person linked to Trump’s campaign who admitted guilt to criminal activity after facing charges that stemmed in full or in part from Mueller’s work. The two additional charges to which Manafort agreed means that, as of writing, seven people have admitted to or been convicted of 24 criminal counts linked to the Mueller probe and/or the campaign. Another 26 people and three businesses, all in Russia or Ukraine, have been indicted by the Mueller grand jury.
Quite a witch hunt.
One of the two charges to which Manafort admitted guilt on Friday was a sweeping conspiracy charge, incorporating a slew of the numerous counts that he faced at one point. The other charge is a conspiracy charge related to obstruction of justice. This isn’t related to the president; Manafort, after the original charges were filed, had worked with a longtime business partner to try to bury evidence suggesting his guilt.
The eight counts on which he was convicted last month were mostly finance-related.
The same day that Manafort was convicted in Virginia — the same hour, actually — Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen was admitting guilt on eight criminal counts in New York. Cohen played a utility role on the campaign, acting as an advocate on news broadcasts and, more to the point, arranging for payments to women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump to keep those stories from being revealed.
Cohen’s charges were brought by the U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York, but they also reportedly included information that had been shared with prosecutors by Mueller’s team.
The campaign contribution charges were related to the payments. While admitting guilt, Cohen directly implicated Trump as being involved in those activities.
Criminal charges against Trump campaign associates stretch back to October of last year, when charges against former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos were first revealed. Papadopoulos admitted to misleading investigators about his conversations with a Russia-linked professor during the campaign; earlier this month he was sentenced to two weeks in prison.
In December, former campaign adviser and national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to the same charge, related to what he told investigators about his conversations with the Russian ambassador a year prior. He has not been sentenced.
October was also the point when Manafort first faced charges, along with his longtime business partner Rick Gates. Gates, who also served as Manafort’s deputy on the campaign, pleaded guilty to two charges earlier this year, including a conspiracy charge. He cooperated with investigators, testifying against Manafort in the trial during which his former boss was convicted.
Mueller’s team has also obtained guilty pleas from two other individuals not related to the campaign.
Alex van der Zwaan is an attorney who’d worked with Gates and Manafort. He pleaded guilty to making false statements, served a month in prison and was deported.
Richard Pinedo is a businessman who admitted to providing fake bank account numbers to people who turned out to be Russian nationals seeking to influence the election. He has not yet been sentenced.
Two other prominent allies of Trump’s from the campaign have also been indicted on unrelated charges. Those two are Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who were the first two members of the House to endorse Trump’s candidacy. Collins faces insider trading charges, and Hunter is accused of campaign finance violations.
Meanwhile, Mueller’s probe continues.