U.S. pres­i­dent fum­ing

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ZEKE MILLER AND JONATHAN LEMIRE in Wash­ing­ton

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion cam­paign chair­man on Mon­day was charged with se­cretly lob­by­ing for a pro-Rus­sian party in Ukraine in ex­change for mil­lions of dol­lars. The charges brought by spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert Mueller against Paul Manafort and two other aides marked a new phase in his sprawl­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia and un­der­scores the on­go­ing threat Mueller poses to the pres­i­dent.

Trump im­me­di­ately sought to distance him­self af­ter Manafort and Rick Gates pleaded not guilty to a 12-count in­dict­ment al­leg­ing money laun­der­ing, con­spir­acy and other of­fences and as another for­mer aide was re­vealed to be co-op­er­at­ing with au­thor­i­ties af­ter en­ter­ing a guilty plea for ly­ing to the FBI. White House of­fi­cials were pub­licly op­ti­mistic about Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion wrap­ping up swiftly, but the probe is far from over and its reach still un­cer­tain.

Trump has be­come in­creas­ingly con­cerned that the Mueller probe could be mov­ing beyond Rus­sia to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his per­sonal deal­ings, two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the pres­i­dent’s think­ing said. Trump ex­pressed ir­ri­ta­tion Mon­day morn­ing that his rep­u­ta­tion was be­ing tar­nished by his for­mer aides.

In the hours af­ter the in­dict­ment, the pres­i­dent an­grily told one con­fi­dant that Manafort had been a cam­paign “part-timer” who had only helped steer the con­ven­tion and got too much credit for Trump’s abil­ity to hold onto the nom­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the pri­vate dis­cus­sion.

Trump dis­missed the money-laun­der­ing charges against Manafort as typ­i­cal po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion that did not re­flect on his cam­paign, one of the per­sons said. The pres­i­dent also in­sisted that the charges pre­dated Manafort’s time on the cam­paign and that he should not be held re­spon­si­ble for any prior mis­deeds by Manafort.

Trump took to Twit­ter to ar­gue that al­le­ga­tions against Manafort were from “years ago” and as­serted there was “NO COL­LU­SION” be­tween his cam­paign and Rus­sia. But the in­dict­ment against Manafort and Gates de­tails al­le­ga­tions stretch­ing from 2006 all the way to 2017.

And Trump’s in­sis­tence that there was no col­lu­sion be­tween his cam­paign and Rus­sia was com­pli­cated by the rev­e­la­tion that cam­paign ad­viser Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los was an­swer­ing ques­tions from pros­e­cu­tors af­ter ad­mit­ting he lied about his un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to bro­ker a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The White House tried to play down the cam­paign role of Pa­padopou­los, whom Trump named as a for­eign pol­icy ad­viser in March 2016, say­ing the aide’s at­tempts to earn as­sis­tance from Rus­sian na­tion­als were unau­tho­rized. White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders dis­missed him as an un­paid “vol­un­teer” and said “no ac­tiv­ity was ever done in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity on be­half of the cam­paign in that re­gard.”

Mueller’s of­fice re­vealed in a court fil­ing that Pa­padopou­los was now as­sist­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a “proac­tive co-op­er­a­tor.”

San­ders min­i­mized Trump’s re­ac­tion to the in­dict­ments.

“He re­sponded the same way the rest of us in the White House have,” she said, “and that’s with­out a lot of re­ac­tion be­cause it doesn’t have any­thing to do with us.”

Trump fumed in re­cent weeks that he be­lieves Mueller was tak­ing an ex­pan­sive view of his role and look­ing beyond the nar­row def­i­ni­tion of al­leged col­lu­sion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

The pres­i­dent pub­licly mused in a July in­ter­view that he might look to fire the spe­cial coun­sel if Mueller be­gan look­ing into his busi­ness deal­ings, a pos­si­bil­ity that has weighed on him in re­cent weeks, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple who have spo­ken to him but were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

Trump tried a fa­mil­iar ploy on Mon­day to shift at­ten­tion to Democrats and his for­mer ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton, ask­ing on Twit­ter why they weren’t sub­jects of Mueller’s probe. But Trump’s at­tempts to dis­credit the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Mueller, a for­mer FBI direc­tor, threaten to alien­ate him from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, who have sup­ported the in­quiry.

Trump has at times chafed at his le­gal team’s ad­vice to be def­er­en­tial to Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, toy­ing with the no­tion of go­ing on the of­fen­sive. For­mer Trump strate­gist Steve Ban­non has en­cour­aged the more ag­gres­sive ap­proach, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with his think­ing but not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss it by name.

The in­dict­ments of Manafort and Gates, his long­time pro­tege, were largely an­tic­i­pated by White House of­fi­cials, who viewed the pair war­ily. And they ex­pressed re­lief that Mueller’s charges against the two didn’t specif­i­cally per­tain to Rus­sia or Trump. Gates had been a key out­side ad­viser, par­tic­i­pat­ing in meet­ings with White House of­fi­cials as re­cently as last sum­mer. The White House said Trump last re­called speak­ing with Manafort by phone in Fe­bru­ary.

Manafort held a crit­i­cal role in Trump’s cam­paign, spear­head­ing his ef­forts to counter a con­certed del­e­gate chal­lenge to his nom­i­na­tion in 2016. He had been rec­om­mended by Trump’s in­ner cir­cle: first by long­time Trump friend Tom Bar­rack, who then urged Ivanka Trump to lobby her fa­ther on Manafort’s be­half. Af­ter the ouster of Corey Le­wandowski as cam­paign man­ager in June 2016, Manafort be­came the de-facto cam­paign man­ager un­til he him­self was pushed out in Au­gust 2016 over his lob­by­ing work on be­half of pro-Rus­sian of­fi­cials in Ukraine. Gates re­mained part of the Trump cam­paign af­ter Manafort’s de­par­ture and took on a role plan­ning Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.


Paul Manafort, right, for­mer cam­paign man­ager for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, leaves U.S. Dis­trict Court in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day af­ter plead­ing not guilty on fed­eral charges. Two oth­ers were also named in the first in­dict­ments of spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert...


Rick Gates, right, a Trump ad­viser and pro­tege of Paul Manafort, leaves fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day af­ter plead­ing not guilty to felony charges of con­spir­acy against the United States and other counts.


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