Trump ex-campaign chair Manafort faces March sentencing on conspiracy charges

Paul Manafort will tentatively face sentencing on March 5, a U.S. federal judge ruled Friday, after the special counsel investigating U.S. President Donald Trump's links to Russia said the former top aide had breached his plea deal.

After a plea deal fell through, he could still be charged on counts that caused mistrial

Paul Manafort is shown in 2017 at a court appearance. Manafort's apparent co-operation with the special counsel investigating U.S. President Donald Trump's links to Russia was revealed this week to have ended. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Paul Manafort will tentatively face sentencing on March 5, a U.S. federal judge ruled Friday, after the special counsel investigating U.S. President Donald Trump's links to Russia said the former top aide had breached his plea deal.

The one-time presidential campaign chair for Trump reached a deal in September to plead guilty to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice but on Monday lawyers for Robert Mueller's special counsel probe accused Manafort of breached the deal by lying repeatedly to the FBI.

Mueller's team also must submit a report to the court on Dec. 7 outlining how Manafort had breached his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, the judge said.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said she would hold a hearing in January to decide whether Manafort had breached his agreement but gave no date. While Manafort's attorneys have disagreed that he breached the deal, they have agreed with the prosecution to move ahead with sentencing.

Manafort, who is in custody, was not required to be in the Washington court on Friday.

The 69-year-old faced a host of charges related to Ukrainian political consulting work, including failing to register as a foreign agent. He was also found guilty of eight out of 18 charges in his financial fraud trial in Virginia in August, for which he is expected to be sentenced in February.

Some of those counts carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Manafort stood accused of hiding about $16 million US in income from the Internal Revenue Service between 2010 and 2014 by allegedly disguising the money he earned advising pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks.

He was charged in Virginia with a total of 18 counts of bank fraud, bank fraud conspiracy, failing to file foreign bank account reports and subscribing to false income tax returns. The judge declared a mistrial on the 10 other counts after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous consensus.

Manafort's trial there included testimony from his longtime aide Rick Gates, who has co-operated with prosecutors after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.

The verdict on Aug. 21 was part of a stunning one-two punch of bad news that day for the White House, coming as the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was pleading guilty in New York to campaign-finance charges arising from hush money payments made to two women who say they had sexual relationships with Trump.

Trump, Manafort acquainted for decades

Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday to a separate count. He indicated he had lied to Congress about the timing of a Trump Tower project in Moscow in order to be consistent with Trump's "political message."

For his part, Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was elevated to chair in May, as it was hoped his decades of experience in Republican circles in Washington would help convince reluctant delegates to back Trump, the unconventional candidate.

Manafort left the campaign in August that year — days after the New York Times reported a Ukraine investigation had uncovered $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments he had received from 2007 to 2012. The money, the newspaper reported, came from the pro-Russian party of Viktor Yanukovych, the one-time Ukraine president.

Manafort was charged after Mueller was given the authority as of May 2017 to investigate "any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Trump," as well as any potentially criminal matters that arose directly from the investigation.

Trump has said he feels "very badly" for Manafort and believes it has been an unfair prosecution. He has stressed the prosecution was for separate activities unrelated to his presidential campaign.

Manafort is shown on Aug. 17, 2016 with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, just two days before he was forced to leave the campaign when allegations of money laundering and bank fraud related to his consulting work were detailed in the press. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

When asked if he had ruled out a potential pardon for Manafort, Trump has demurred.

But the charges at minimum raise questions about the vetting of people in Trump's orbit. In addition to Manafort, Cohen and Gates, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to various charges as a result of the special counsel investigation.

Papadopoulos began reluctantly serving a short prison sentence this week.

Manafort attended controversial meeting

Manafort succeeded Corey Lewandowski in directing Trump's campaign, and was essentially replaced in that role by Steve Bannon. Manafort was present, along with Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., at a controversial Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 with Russian figures that has been a subject of inquiry in a number of congressional committees.

Trump has tried to downplay his relationship to Manafort, citing his relatively short time on the campaign. But the pair have known each other since the 1980s, as Manafort was part of a lobbying firm that did work on behalf of the real estate magnate.

Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, although there is no federal crime called collusion. The president could be damaged politically should there be findings he obstructed justice, or that he or his closest aides engaged in a conspiracy with Russians.

Russia has denied the allegations, although at a joint news conference with Trump in July in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted he wanted the Republican to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann on Friday did not rule out the potential for further charges for Manafort, who had the option of facing one federal trial, but chose to separate proceedings in Virginia and D.C.

With files from Reuters