Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleads guilty, will cooperate with special counsel

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed today to cooperate with the special counsel's Trump-Russia investigation as he pleaded guilty to federal crimes and avoided a second trial that could have exposed him to more time in prison.

The deal gives special counsel Robert Mueller a key cooperator who steered the Trump election effort for a pivotal stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign. The result also ensures the investigation will extend far beyond the November congressional elections despite entreaties from the president's lawyers that Mueller bring it to a close.

It is unclear what information Manafort is prepared to offer investigators about the president or that could aid Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But his involvement in key episodes under scrutiny, and his leadership of the campaign at a time when prosecutors say Russian intelligence was working to sway the election, may make him an especially valuable witness.

The agreement makes Manafort the latest associate of Mr Trump, a president known to place a premium on loyalty among subordinates, to admit guilt and work with investigators in hopes of leniency.

Manafort had long resisted the idea of cooperating even as prosecutors stacked additional charges against him in Washington and Virginia. Mr Trump had saluted that stance, publicly praising him and suggesting Manafort had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had suggested a pardon might be a possibility after the investigation was concluded.

Then came today's extraordinary development when Manafort agreed to provide any information asked of him, testify whenever asked and even work undercover if necessary.

Mueller has already secured cooperation from a former national security adviser who lied to the FBI about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador, a campaign aide who broached the idea of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and another aide who was indicted alongside Manafort but ultimately turned on him. Mr Trump's former personal lawyer has separately pleaded guilty in New York.

Today's deal, to charges in Washington tied to Ukrainian political consulting work but unrelated to the campaign, was struck just days before Manafort was to stand trial for a second time.

He was convicted last month of eight financial crimes in a separate trial in Virginia and faces seven to 10 years in prison in that case.

The two conspiracy counts he admitted to today carry up to five years, though Manafort's sentence will ultimately depend on his cooperation.

"He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He's accepted responsibility. This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that," Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said outside court.

A courtroom sketch showing former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, centre, and his defence lawyer Richard Westling, left, before US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, seated upper right, at federal court today. Source: Associated Press

The agreement doesn't specify what if anything prosecutors hope to receive about Mr Trump, but Manafort could be well-positioned to provide key insight for investigators working to establish whether the campaign coordinated with Russia.

He was among the participants, for instance, in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians and Trump's oldest son and son-in-law that was arranged for the campaign to receive derogatory information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. He was also a close business associate of a man who US intelligence believes has ties to Russian intelligence. And while he was working on the campaign, emails show Manafort discussed providing private briefings for a wealthy Russian businessman close to Putin.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the Manafort case was unrelated to Mr Trump. Mr Giuliani said he spoke to Mr Trump today about Manafort's plea.

"The president was OK with it," he said. "In a way, it's another indication there is no evidence of collusion. All of these charges predate the time Paul spent with the president. And there's nothing in what he pleaded about collusion."

It's unclear how the deal might affect any Manafort pursuit of a pardon from Mr Trump, though Mr Giuliani told Politico before the deal that a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn't foreclose the possibility of a pardon.

Under the terms of the deal, Manafort was allowed to plead guilty to just two counts, though the crimes he admitted largely cover the same conduct alleged in an indictment last year. He abandoned his right to appeal his conviction in Virginia and agreed to forfeit homes in New York, including a condo in Trump Tower.

But the guilty plea also spares Manafort the cost of a weekslong trial that could have added years to the prison time he's already facing following the Virginia guilty verdicts. A jury there found him guilty of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.

Prosecutors today presented new information about allegations they were prepared to present at trial, which was to have focused on Manafort's political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

That case alleged that Manafort directed a large-scale US lobbying operation for Ukrainian interests but never registered as a foreign agent despite being required to do so under the law, and that he concealed millions of dollars in income from the IRS.

He also failed to disclose his involvement in lobbying efforts made through a group of former European politicians, known as the Hapsburg Group, who pushed policies beneficial to Ukraine, the allegations said.

In 2013, one of the politicians and his country's prime minister met with then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. Manafort was later sent an email that the politicians had "delivered the message of not letting 'Russians Steal Ukraine from the West.'"

Another allegation revealed Friday concerns Manafort's efforts to peddle stories to discredit Yanukovych's opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Prosecutors said he spread stories and secretly coordinated with an Israeli government official to publicize the idea that a US Cabinet official was an anti-Semite for supporting Ms Tymoshenko, who had formed an alliance with a Ukrainian political party that had shared anti-Semitic views.

"I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom," Manafort wrote to a colleague, court documents said.

Paul Manafort faces 11 other charges including money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent.
President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Source: 1 NEWS



Armed police at the scene of a fight in Lower Hutt where a man was killed

Armed police are at the scene where a man was killed in a fight in Lower Hutt last night.

The 29-year-old victim was attacked near the intersection of High Street and Burcham Street, in Taitā, at around 7.45pm.

The man's body will be removed from the scene for a post-mortem examination this afternoon while a scene examination on High Street continues.

Detective Senior Sergeant Tim Leitch said one man, an associate of the victim, was charged with assault and has since been released on bail.

Police are still seeking a second man, who was seen leaving the area in a silver station wagon, in relation to the incident.

Police have since seized the vehicle for testing after is was spotted nearby on Pringle Street.

It's believed items of interest may have been discarded by the occupants of the vehicle, and police are asking residents in the surrounding areas of Burcham Street, Macky Street, Pringle Street and Churton Crescent to search surrounding areas for anything which may be relevant to the investigation.

The man has been described as being of Māori descent with a solid build, dark curly hair and facial tattoos.

He was last seen wearing a black top and pants, and may have received a facial injury in the incident. 

Anyone who witnessed the incident or saw either the silver station wagon or any suspicious activity shortly after 7.45 pm has been urged to contact police.

Armed police are at the scene where a man was killed in a fight in Lower Hutt last night with police hoping to remove the body from the scene this afternoon. Source: 1 NEWS

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'I gotta get out...whoa!'- CNN reporter films himself being buffeted by winds in tropical storm Florence

A weather reporter has filmed himself being buffeted with winds over 153km/h from a North Carolina beach as the eyewall of Hurricane Florence came onshore.

CNN’s Derek Van Dam Van Dam can be seen in the footage struggling to remain upright in the ferocious winds.

“Winds over 95 (mph, 153km/h)… I gotta get out… whoa,” he can be heard yelling.

Florence, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7.15 am at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the South Carolina line.

Its top sustained winds have dropped to 70km/h and it's at a near standstill, moving west at just 6 km/h.

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Mother and baby killed after tree falls on their house in Hurricane Florence

A mother and infant in North Carolina are dead after a tree fell on their home - the first two fatalities of Hurricane Florence.

The Wilmington Police Department said Friday (local time) that the two were killed when a tree fell on their house. The father was transported to a hospital for treatment.

Neighbour Adam Sparks says the family stocked up for the storm, just like he did. He says he heard the tree crashing down, but wasn't sure what had happened.

"It was very dark, and the wind being high like it is now, it was even higher then. So, all you could see was water and wind and it was very loud winds. So, you can't really figure out what's going on out there," he says.

"It's sad, something like that happening to a neighbour."

Forecasters have been predicting catastrophic flash flooding. The National Hurricane Center in Miami says more than 405mm of rain have fallen at locations in southeast North Carolina and another 508mm to 635mm is on the way.

Mother and baby die in Hurricane Florence after tree falls on their house. Source: 1 NEWS


Justin Bieber has secretly married girlfriend Hailey Baldwin, according to report

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin have reportedly already got married and could hold their ceremony as early as next week.

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin have reportedly tied the knot.

The couple were seen at the Marriage Bureau at the courthouse in New York City on Thursday (local time) thought to be getting their marriage licence, but it has now been revealed that the happy couple decided to wed there and then and are planning a celebration with family and friends in Canada and it could take place in the next seven days.

A source told People magazine: "They went ahead and did it without listening to anyone. They're going to have a big blowout, in front of God and everyone they love."

Justin confirmed his engagement to Hailey just a few days after he proposed during a trip to the Bahamas last month.

He wrote: "Was gonna wait a while to say anything but word travels fast, listen plain and simple Hailey I am soooo in love with everything about you! So committed to spending my life getting to know every single part of you loving you patiently and kindLY. I promise to lead our family with honor and integrity letting Jesus through his Holy Spirit guide us in everything we do and every decision we make. My heart is COMPLETELY and FULLY YOURS and I will ALWAYS put you first! You are the love of my life Hailey Baldwin and I wouldn't want to spend it with anybody else. You make me so much better and we compliment eachother so well!! Can't wait for the best season of life yet!. (sic)"

And Hailey has also decided to take a back seat with her career so she can spend time with her fiancé.

Asked why she hadn't booked so many modeling jobs at New York Fashion Week this year, she shared: "I've tried to be really choosy with fashion week going forward, just because I want to have the time to spend being relaxed and being with family - and my fiancé."

Luckily for New Zealand fans, the star had already visited these shores.
Source: 1 NEWS