Paul Manafort expected to plead guilty, avoid second trial

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The latest superseding criminal information released on Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller distilled the charges against Manafort down to two - conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

If he pleads guilty, Manafort would avoid a trial that was expected to last at least three weeks and posed the potential of adding years onto the seven to 10 years he is already facing under federal sentencing guidelines from his conviction in Virginia.

It's unclear if Manafort will become or has become a cooperating witness, but some reports say the plea agreement appears to suggest he will. He could also get a pardon from Trump, which would set off a political firestorm.

It comes three weeks after Paul Manafort was convicted in a separate trial on eight counts related to financial fraud, and as the Mueller investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation increasingly pressures the White House.

At a rally in August, Trump said: "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort". But Trump's presidential pardon powers only exist at the federal level, and if Manafort were to be convicted in any possible state-level prosecutions, the president couldn't grant a pardon.

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The longtime lobbyist resigned from his position as campaign chairman in August 2016 amid increasing scrutiny of his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. He had been jailed since June as a result of the witness tampering charges. But Manafort has not been charged with anything related to the campaign.

The charges in the information say that Manafort will have to forfeit property that was derived from or traceable to his offenses.

At the time of Gates' plea, Manafort issued a statement saying he "had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence".

That posture drew plaudits from Trump, who praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.