WASHINGTON – Attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have been in discussions related to a possible plea agreement with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller on the eve of a second criminal trial, according to a person familiar with the matter.
While it was not immediately clear whether the talks would end in a deal, ABC News reported Thursday that Manafort’s legal team and federal prosecutors had struck a tentative agreement.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined comment Thursday.
The development comes before a previously scheduled Friday hearing, as the two sides prepared for jury selection slated to begin Monday in the District of Columbia.
Last month, a federal court jury in Virginia returned guilty verdicts against Manafort on eight of 18 criminal counts involving tax and bank fraud. A lone holdout on the Virginia jury blocked his conviction on all counts.
In the second trial, Manafort faces seven additional counts alleging money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice.
Much of the case promised to strike similar themes from the Virginia trial, featuring volumes of documents and witnesses, including former Manafort business partner Rick Gates. The partner’s testimony and a detailed paper trail in Virginia was used to show how Manafort shielded millions of dollars from U.S. tax authorities through a network of foreign bank accounts that were later tapped to support an extravagant lifestyle in the U.S.
Manafort and Gates, prosecutors alleged, went to extraordinary lengths to protect tens of millions of dollars they earned from a longtime political consulting enterprise in Ukraine in support of former president Viktor Yanukovych.
Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI earlier this year as part of his own deal to cooperate in the cases against Manafort. He is one of a handful of former top aides or associates–including former national security adviser Michael Flynn–who have pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller’s team. In a case brought by federal prosecutors in New York, Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen also has pleaded guilty to paying off two women to silence them before the 2016 election at Trump’s “direction,” and admitted that the payments were illegal.
In Manafort’s D.C. case, in addition to the financial fraud charges, prosecutors also are poised to offer evidence that Manafort and business association Konstantin Kilimnik sought to obstruct the Mueller investigation.
The government claims that Manafort and Kilimnik, who has been linked to the Russian intelligence service, attempted to block the testimony of at least two witnesses in the ongoing probe.
Investigators claimed that the “repeated” contacts occurred while Manafort was under house arrest, as a condition of his release in the then-pending trials in Virginia and Washington.
Within in a week after the obstruction charges were filed in June, Manafort’s bail was revoked and he was ordered to jail where he remains awaiting formal sentencing.
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