Russiagate: Manafort Cooperation Shakes Trump

The former campaign chief is ready to talk to Mueller, the president’s great accuser.

Paul Manafort has surrendered and agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman made the decision to escape a second trial that could have condemned him to spend the rest of his life in prison. In return, he has agreed to tell all he knows. The White House has responded by playing down concerns, saying that the president has done nothing wrong. Only Mueller will know if that is really the case. One thing that is certain is that if collusion with Russia over the 2016 presidential elections took place, Trump’s ex-campaign chairman will be able to prove it.

Manafort had been campaign chairman until August 2016 and was employed for his expertise in managing conventions. He was sacked when The New York Times revealed that he had been in the service of Moscow for many years, looking after the country’s interests in Ukraine. In exchange, he received millions of dollars that were hidden from tax authorities. These were the charges that Mueller brought against him; Trump’s ex-campaign manager was already convicted of tax and bank fraud in Virginia. Although the sentence has not been confirmed, he could be sent to prison for 10 years.

The second set of charges, for obstruction of justice and money laundering, had been scheduled for trial on Sept. 24 and carried a penalty of life imprisonment. Up to this point, Manafort had refused to collaborate, hoping for a presidential pardon from Trump, who had praised his loyalty. He now accepts he has no way out and has agreed to cooperate. His attorney said, “He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders commented, “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign.” Trump’s defenders, such as Rudy Giuliani, stress that the charges against Manafort are not related to Russian collusion as none took place. This, however, remains to be seen. Manafort has known Trump for about 30 years, lived in Trump Tower in Manhattan, and was the business partner of his adviser, Roger Stone, who was close to WikiLeaks. He worked for the Kremlin in Ukraine, helping presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych against Julia Timoshenko, and was on the payroll of Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch with close links to Vladimir Putin. He offered Deripaska confidential information on the presidential campaign in exchange for writing off a debt.

The Decisive Meeting

These relationships were handled by Konstantin Kilimnik, who has links to Russian intelligence. Manafort was present at the Trump Tower meeting of June 2016 with representatives of Moscow, when compromising information on Hillary Clinton was offered. Once he became campaign chairman, he changed the party platform to favor Putin’s interests in Ukraine. Put simply, he had both the motive and the connections to manage the collusion. With Manafort’s cooperation, and that of Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and former general and adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller has all the main players except the president’s wife and children. If something illegal took place, he will discover it. If not, Trump will be saved.

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