Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort reaches plea deal with special counsel

He has pleaded guilty to two charges, meaning the veteran political operative avoids a second trial

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort reaches plea deal with special counsel

Paul Manafort. Picture by: Jose Luis Magana/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 21:50

Donald Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to two crimes and avoid a second trial.

US media reports that Mr Manafort has reached a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, who has been leading the probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

According to the New York Times, lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a court in Washington today that Mr Manafort has reached a "cooperation agreement" with federal prosecutors. 

The plea agreement states that Mr Manafort will "cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly [...] in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant".

The veteran political operative is pleading guilty to two charges - conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

It means another five charges have been dropped, including those relating to money laundering.

As part of the arrangement, Mr Manafort will remain in jail ahead of final sentencing, and will also surrender multiple properties and other assets.

Mr Manafort's trial had been due to begin later this month.

President Trump has repeatedly defended his former campaign chair, saying he has "great respect for what he has done in terms of what he has gone through" - but stressed that the charges against Manafort are completely unrelated to the 2016 campaign.

In a statement today, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said the Manafort plea has "absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."

Charges

According to court documents filed by the special counsel's office, Mr Manafort and others are said to "have conspired to act, and acted, as unregistered agents of a foreign government and political party".

The charges are related to his political work in Ukraine.

He is said to have generated tens of millions of dollars through his political work in Ukraine, and is also alleged to have attempted to hide payments from authorities in the US.

The court documents claim Manafort "directed a campaign to lobby United States officials and the United States media on behalf of the Government of Ukraine, the President of Ukraine, and Ukrainian political parties" without declaring the work in the US.

The charges are separate to Manafort's recent fraud trial, where a jury found him guilty on eight counts.

He was found guilty of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of hiding foreign bank accounts.

He has yet to be sentenced following that trial, with experts suggesting he faces 8-10 years in prison.

Those charges emerged as part of the ongoing special counsel probe, although largely predated Mr Manafort's work with the Trump campaign.

A mistrial was declared on 10 other charges after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict.