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What is going on in America with Trump's advisors, Russia and a special prosecutor?

And is it important?

Trump Russia Probe Rick Gates, Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Paul Manafort in July 2016 Source: Evan Vucci/AP

AS IT WAS a bank holiday yesterday, the news that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort had been indicted may have washed over you.

Luckily we’re here to fill you in on a day that could prove crucial in the Trump presidency.

So, what happened?

Yesterday three former Trump associates – Manafort, his business partner Rick Gates and a foreign policy advisor to Trump named George Papadopoulos – were revealed to have been at the centre of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s US election.

Manafort and Gates yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and money laundering after the Justice Department unveiled the first indictments in the probe. They were placed under house arrest.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on 5 October to making false statements.

Who are the men?

Paul Manafort

Trump Russia Probe Expensive Tastes Source: Evan Vucci/AP

Manafort is the highest-profile figure in the president’s orbit to face charges in the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

He joined the Trump campaign last March and took over day-to-day operations in June. He resigned in August, turning over control to Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon.

Before his time in Trumpland, he had a storied career in Republican politics.

A lawyer by training, Manafort gained prominence rounding up delegates for Gerald Ford at the 1976 Republican convention and helping manage Ronald Reagan’s convention efforts in 1980.

He became a lobbyist and spent time in Russia and Ukraine -where yesterday’s charges stem from.

As an adviser to Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, Manafort helped the party turn around its reputation as corrupt and under Russian influence, getting Ukraine’s president elected in 2006. Manafort remained an adviser to the Party of Regions until 2014, when it was ousted amid popular protests.

Rick Gates

Trump Russia Probe Rick Gates Source: Susan Walsh/AP

Rick Gates was Manafort’s deputy, both in the Trump campaign and in Manafort’s work in Ukraine. Now 45, Gates began as an intern at lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, before furthering his career elsewhere.

Gates joined Manafort for the Trump campaign, too, serving as a top decision-maker for day-to-day matters. But he never drew a Trump campaign paycheck.

However, he stayed on after Manafort left, chairing the inaugural committee and working with a political nonprofit established to help Trump; America First Policies.

George Papadopoulos

Before joining Trump’s campaign, Papadopoulos billed himself as an international energy consultant — though he only graduated from DePaul University in 2009 and was largely unknown in foreign policy circles.

Trump’s campaign named him as one of eight foreign policy advisers in March 2016, however, as it scrambled to develop policy positions on key international issues. The Washington Post previously reported he had tried to facilitate contact between Russian government entities and the Trump campaign

What are the charges?

Robert Mueller Named As Special Counsel On Russia Probe Robert Mueller Source: James Berglie

A 31-page indictment details 12 charges against Manafort and Gates, including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to launder money.

The two stand accused of hiding millions of dollars earned working for former Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow political party, and avoiding paying taxes on the income.

Manafort and Gates were also charged with not filing reports of foreign bank accounts, and not registering as agents of a foreign power as they lobbied the US government on behalf of Ukraine.

The Manafort indictment details alleged brazen illegal activity. The pair are accused of moving more than $75 million through offshore accounts and shell companies between 2006 and 2016.

They allegedly laundered $18 million. The tax-free money helped Manafort fund a “lavish lifestyle” that included purchasing multi-million-dollar properties and luxury goods and services for himself and family.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements, and hiding contacts with a Moscow-linked professor offering “dirt” on Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.

Is this important?

OR: Trump Rages On Twitter Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Many observers yesterday opined that while Manafort and Gates’ indictments were bad for Trump, they weren’t really catastrophic.

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Papadopulos’ guilty plea, however, is the more immediate bombshell. His case cuts close to the central question of Mueller’s investigation: Did Russia try to sway the election? Did Trump’s campaign know?

“The Russians had emails of Clinton,” Papadopoulos was told by an unnamed Russian professor during a breakfast meeting at a London hotel in April 2016. US investigators said that the following day, Papadopoulos then emailed a Trump campaign policy adviser, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

The special counsel’s statement noted that in an email exchange about Papadopoulos’ contacts last year, two unnamed Trump campaign officials sought to protect Trump from any overt involvement.

“We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal,” one of the campaign aides said.

An email independently obtained by The Associated Press shows that the comment was sent by Trump’s former campaign chairman Manafort to his long-time aide Gates on 21 May 2016.

How did Trump react?

On Twitter, naturally. He asserted that while Manafort was part of his team, he was only there for a short period of time and the charges relate to his conduct before he helped get Trump elected.

Trump tried to turn the attention on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, who are not currently being investigated for colluding with a foreign power in order to influence an American election.

And, in case you’d forgotten:

Could it be the end of Trump?

On its own, it’s unlikely. While some sections of Twitter became excited about the possibility of impeachment, anything like it is still a long way away.

However, the indictments show that Mueller is focused on the investigation and could yet serve more.

With AFP and AP.

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