Paul Manafort reportedly close to plea deal with U.S. prosecutors on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges


WASHINGTON—Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and one of Washington’s most prominent lobbyists, is close to a plea deal with federal prosecutors to avoid a trial scheduled for next week on charges stemming from work he did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine, people familiar with the case said Thursday.

Manafort has already been convicted on related bank and tax fraud charges arising from an investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. The negotiations over a plea deal relate to a separate set of seven charges encompassing conspiracy, obstruction of justice, money laundering, false statements and violations of a lobbying disclosure law.

It was not clear which charges Manafort might plead guilty to or whether he would co-operate with Mueller’s team in its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion with the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice by Trump.

His trial on the second set of charges is scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday. A pretrial hearing, postponed this week, is scheduled for Friday.

A jury in Northern Virginia convicted Manafort last month of eight counts of financial fraud based on much of the same evidence that prosecutors planned to present in the second trial.

Any plea by Manafort would be another unsettling development for a president who seems increasingly isolated and distrustful of members of his own circle.

For months, Trump has praised Manafort for confronting Mueller instead of trying to negotiate a plea deal.

Four former Trump aides have pleaded guilty to charges related to the special counsel investigation: Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer; Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser; Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman; and George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser.

Only Papadopoulos has been sentenced; a judge last Friday ordered him to spend 14 days in prison for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian government intermediaries.

Manafort has been reassessing his legal risks after last month’s trial. He was found guilty of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account, crimes that legal experts predicted would likely result in a prison term of six to 12 years.

Prosecutors have approached the second trial much like the first: with a wealth of documentary evidence and a range of witnesses who worked with Manafort. In pretrial filings, they listed 2,127 potential exhibits.

The defense has planned to show that the special counsel had targeted Manafort because he had headed Trump’s presidential campaign. But Judge Amy Berman Jackson of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had already signaled that argument was out-of-bounds.

Trump has repeatedly come to Manafort’s defense. “Paul Manafort is a good man,” he said after the Virginia jury returned its verdict. “It doesn’t involve me but it’s a very sad thing.” In private discussions with his lawyers, Trump has raised the option of pardoning Manafort.

It was unclear whether that possibility has figured in Manafort’s thinking. If he pleads guilty, his lawyers could argue that he deserves a lighter sentence for accepting responsibility for his crimes.

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