Trump aides charged in Russia inquiry
Ex-campaign chairman and his business associate deny conspiracy against US Former adviser arrested in July has pleaded guilty over contact with Russian officials
The Russian investigation that has overshadowed Donald Trump’s presidency took a sensational turn yesterday as two of his former aides were charged with criminal activity, including conspiracy against the United States.
Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort (68) and his business associate Rick Gates (45) appeared at the federal district court in Washington DC, having surrendered to the FBI shortly after 8am. They pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, and were released on bonds of $10 million and $5 million respectively. Both were placed under house arrest.
Separately, it emerged in FBI documents that George Papadopoulos (30), a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was arrested in July as he arrived at Washington’s Dulles airport. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI in January about the nature of his communication with Russian officials during the campaign.
While Mr Manafort’s and Mr Gates’s alleged crimes relate to their financial links with pro-Russian Ukrainians while working on the Trump campaign, Mr Papadopoulos’s arrest has potentially more serious ramifications for the administration. Court documents show how Mr Papadopoulos tried to broker meetings between the campaign and Russian officials.
One exchange quoted in the FBI documents reveals that a member of the campaign team encouraged Mr Papadopoulos to make a trip for an off-the-record meeting with Russian officials “if feasible” – a statement that could indicate a willingness to collude with Russia.
Mr Papadopoulos is understood to be co-operating with the FBI.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the indictments had “nothing to do with the president, with the campaign or campaign activity”, claiming that most of the activity took place before the Trump campaign existed.
She said Mr Papadopoulos was a volunteer who had an “extremely limited” role in the Trump campaign.
Outside the court, a lawyer for Mr Manafort said that there was “no evidence that Mr Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government”, stating his client, through his work for Ukrainian individuals, was seeking to “further democracy and help Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU”.
The 31-page indictment published by the FBI reveals Mr Manafort and Mr Gates received tens of millions of dollars from pro-Russian Ukrainians including former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych for years, much of which was channelled through bank accounts in Cyprus, but was not disclosed.
“Manafort and Gates engaged in a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign in the United States” at the direction of Yanukovych and others, the document states, “without registering and providing the disclosures required by law”.
The activities took place between about 2006 and up to “at least 2016” according to the FBI – a period which may cover Mr Manafort’s and Mr Gates’s involvement with the Trump campaign, though no mention is made of the president or his administration in the papers.
Regarding Mr Papadopoulos, the FBI affidavit alleges he made “material false statements and material omissions” in an FBI interview in January.
Paul Manafort (right) leaves court in Washington yesterday