Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort close to plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller: Sources

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs from US District Court in Washington, DC, US. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Washington, DC, USA Sep 14, 2018, 06.51 AM (IST)

US President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is close to reaching a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

"It's close but not there yet," one of the sources said of negotiations in the second case against Manafort arising from Mueller's investigation of US intelligence agencies' conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election, which Moscow denies.

Earlier, ABC News, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the discussions, said Manafort had tentatively agreed to a plea deal and it was expected to be announced at a court hearing on Friday in Washington.

ABC News said it remained unclear whether Manafort had also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing and Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the ABC News report.

If Manafort decides to cooperate with Mueller, it would be a blow to Trump, who last month praised his former aide for not entering into a plea agreement, as the president's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen had.

Writing on Twitter on Aug. 22, Trump said: "Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal. Such respect for a brave man!"

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday in Manafort's second trial in federal court in Washington on charges including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering.

Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant who also worked for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, was convicted last month at trial in Alexandria, Virginia, on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

Mueller is investigating Russia's role in the 2016 US election and whether Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow to help him win. Trump has denied colluding with the Russians.