Trump’s ex-campaign manager ‘close to plea deal to avoid new trial’

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Donald Trump’s former campaign manager is facing a court hearing amid reports he is nearing a plea deal to avoid trial on charges stemming from work he did for pro-Russian political forces in Ukraine.

Several media outlets reported that Paul Manafort is close to a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

It was unclear whether such an agreement would include his cooperation in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling during Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The developments were first reported by ABC News, which said details of the deal would be announced in court on Friday.

It is also unclear how any deal would affect Manafort’s pursuit of an eventual pardon from Mr Trump.

The president has previously signalled he is sympathetic to Manafort’s cause.

Trump Puerto Rico Florida
President Donald Trumphas signalled sympathy for Paul Manafort (Susan Walsh/AP)

With a plea deal, Manafort would avoid a trial that was set to last at least three weeks and posed the potential of adding years to the seven to 10 years he is already facing from his conviction in Virginia last month.

There, a jury found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.

In the Washington case, prosecutors were set to lay out in great detail Manafort’s political consulting and lobbying work, done through 2014, on behalf of then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

Prosecutors say that Manafort directed a large scale lobbying operation in the US for Ukrainian interests without registering with the Justice Department as required by the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Manafort was accused of concealing from the IRS tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from his Ukrainian patrons and conspiring to launder that money through offshore accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere.

Manafort denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Even after his indictment last October, though, prosecutors say he continued to commit crimes by tampering with witnesses. The discovery of his witness contacts led to a superseding indictment in June and Manafort’s jailing ahead of his trial.

In addition to the witness tampering counts, Manafort is formally charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiring to launder money and lying to the FBI and Justice Department about the nature of his work.

Court papers filed in the case indicated that he could have faced between 15 and 19-and-a-half years in prison under federal guidelines.

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