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trouble ahead

Trump's former campaign manager indicted while aide pleads guilty to lying on Russia links

The charges against Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos have been unsealed this afternoon.

Republican National Convention Paul Manafort SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

Updated 6.15pm

FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER for US president Donald Trump Paul Manafort has been officially indicted in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, but has plead not guilty.

Separately, campaign aide George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators probing the campaign’s possible links to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Manafort had been told to hand himself in to federal authorities.

A business associate of Manafort, Rick Gates, has also been told to give himself up. Gates also pleaded not guilty.

The indictments against the two have now been unsealed and can be read on the website of the US Department of Justice.

The two have been charged with 12 counts:

  • Conspiracy against the United States
  • Conspiracy to launder money
  • Being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal
  • Making false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) statements
  • Making false statements
  • Seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

4 The list of charges against Manafort and Gates US Justice Department US Justice Department

The charges do not relate to activity during the election campaign.

The federal grand jury indictment states that “the case was unsealed on 30 October 2017, after the defendants were permitted to surrender themselves to the custody of the FBI”.

The 31-page document charges that Manafort and Gates “concealed from the United States their work as agents of, and million of dollars in payments from, Ukraine and its political parties and leaders”.

It alleges that they and ‘their accomplices’ funneled millions of dollars in payments into foreign nominee companies and bank accounts ‘in various foreign countries, including Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Seychelles’.

It accuses Manafort of laundering more than $18 million (€16 million) from these offshore accounts, and ‘used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income’.

Manafort, one of three campaign managers Trump used, and the immediate predecessor to Kellyanne Conway in the role, had been under investigation for alleged violations of US tax law, money laundering, and a failure to disclose lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.

President Trump has yet to comment publicly on the charges.

The US capital had been tenterhooks all weekend awaiting news of the first arrests in the sweeping probe, led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller, into Russia’s attempts to tilt the 2016 presidential elections in Donald Trump’s favour.


George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the campaign early last year, entered the plea 5 October, admitting he sought to hide contacts with a Moscow linked professor offering “dirt” on Donald Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.

He had meetings with a woman he described as Vladimir Putin’s niece as well as the Russian ambassador in London in March last year, after which he told other campaign officials that they had discussed arranging meetings with Trump and campaign staff.

A month later he reported that his Russia-linked contact, an unnamed “professor”, had offered him “dirt” on Trump rival Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails”, according to the indictment.

By May and June 2016, Papadopoulos had held a number of meetings with the Russia contacts and the professor, and emailed a senior Trump campaign official pushing a possible meeting between the Russians and Trump himself.

“I have the Russian MFA asking me if Mr Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point,” he wrote in June, referring to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Over the next several weeks, when Trump was established as the Republican candidate, Papadopoulos also discussed in emails a possible “off the record” meeting between Trump campaign officials and members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office, as well as MFA officials.

The Papadopoulos indictment was the sharpest evidence yet of possible collusion between the campaign and Russia just as Moscow was revving up its covert operation to steer the election in Trump’s favor.

There was no indication from the indictment of how Trump campaign officials reacted to Papadopoulos’ communications, except comments like “great work” from an unnamed campaign supervisor.

But it was clear from his communications he had the Russian officials’ attention already in early 2016 when he was named as one of Trump’s five official foreign policy advisors that March.

“As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced,” the woman Papadopoulos identified as Putin’s niece told him in an April 2016 email.

In a plea bargain agreement entered on 5 October and released today, Papadopoulos admitting lying to investigators last January as he sought to hide the extent of his contacts with the Russians.

“Through his false statements and omissions, defendant Papadopoulos impeded the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” the indictment said.

The indictment and plea were unsealed today a short time after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates were charged with conspiracy against the US.

They were the first indictments to be made public by special counsel Robert Mueller since he took over the Russia probe in May.

Keeping its distance

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this evening that most of the alleged activities for which Manafort and Gates have been indicted took place before the 2016 campaign.

Sanders said the alleged misdeeds have nothing to do with Trump.

But she said it “has everything to do” with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a research firm that produced the dossier of allegations about Trump’s ties to the Kremlin.

Sanders was also asked about the guilty plea by former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. She said Papadopoulos was a “volunteer.”

Defensive tweets

Trump, in a rapid burst of tweets yesterday and today, denounced the investigation as a “witch hunt” and repeated denials that his White House campaign colluded with Russia.

Mueller’s team has remained publicly silent about reports that a first arrest could come as early as today. He is empowered to pursue not only Russian interference but any other crimes his prosecutors should uncover.

Robert Mueller Named As Special Counsel On Russia Probe Special Counsel Robert Mueller James Berglie / PA Images James Berglie / PA Images / PA Images

Chris Christie, a Republican governor close to Trump, said yesterday on ABC that: “the important thing about today for the American people to know is the president is not under investigation. And no one has told him that he is.”

It was unclear how the New Jersey governor would know whether Trump is being investigated; he may have been referring to earlier comments by former FBI chief James Comey.

But Christie told CNN that anyone who has been advised by Mueller’s office that they are a target of the inquiry “should be concerned”.

‘Small fish’

Typically, such a wide-ranging investigation would first target lower-level people while building a case against those higher up. Sometimes early indictments are used to pressure potential witnesses into turning against others.

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked for president George W Bush, predicted on Twitter that “if there is an indictment, it will be a small fish”.

“A new name that I bet has no bearing on Trump.”

Speculation has focused on former national security adviser Michael Flynn along with Manafort, both of whom were once involved in undeclared lobbying for foreign interests.

Buzzfeed reported yesterday that the FBI is probing a series of wire transfers linked to Manafort that saw offshore companies move more than $3 million (€2.6 million) between 2012 and 2013.

Flagged as suspicious by US financial institutions, some of the 13 transfers Buzzfeed obtained details of involved wires of large sums from Ukraine.

2016 Republican National Convention Donald Trump, pictured with Manafort (right) and Ivanka Trump ahead of Trump accepting the Republican nomination for the presidency in Cleveland, 21 July 2016 SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

According to the news site, federal law enforcement was aware of such transfers as far back as 2012, when they began investigating whether Manafort committed tax fraud or helped the Ukrainian regime – at the time close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin – launder money.

As the Mueller investigation nears a dramatic new phase, Republican officials and conservative media have increased attacks on Democrats – especially Trump’s former rival Hillary Clinton – which opponents dismiss as blatant attempts to divert attention.

‘So much GUILT’

Trump, in his tweets yesterday, again complained of Clinton’s handling of emails while secretary of state, of Democratic Party funding of what he said was a ‘fake’ dossier on Trump’s background, and of a US sale during the Obama administration of uranium rights to Russia.

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s mention of the “fake” dossier appeared to refer to revelations that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee had funded part of the research by a former British intelligence agent into possible links between Trump, his collaborators, and Russia.

In the uranium case, Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom sought in 2010 to buy a share in Toronto-based Uranium One, which has mining stakes in the United States. A panel of nine US government agencies, including the State Department, approved the sale, though Clinton says she was “not personally involved”.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb asserted that Trump’s latest tweets were “unrelated to the activities of the Special Counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate,” news media reported.

With © – AFP, 2017

First published 12.19pm

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