For­mer top Trump aide in charges row

Blow to pres­i­dent as man who led cam­paign linked to con­spir­acy and money laun­der­ing

The Herald (South Africa) - - WORLD - An­drew Beatty

DON­ALD Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort was charged yes­ter­day with con­spir­acy against the United States and money laun­der­ing, in the first in­dict­ment stem­ming from a sprawl­ing probe into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Manafort, 68, and busi­ness part­ner Rick Gates, 45, were charged with al­legedly hid­ing mil­lions of dol­lars they earned work­ing for for­mer Ukrainian politi­cian Vik­tor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow po­lit­i­cal party.

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller an­nounced the charges against the two, the first against any close for­mer Trump aides aris­ing from a fed­eral probe into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion in Rus­sia’s ef­fort to tilt the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Trump’s favour.

“Manafort and Gates gen­er­ated tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in in­come as a re­sult of their Ukraine work,” the in­dict­ment states.

“In or­der to hide Ukraine pay­ments from US au­thor­i­ties, from ap­prox­i­mately 2006 to at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laun­dered the money through scores of United States and for­eign cor­po­ra­tions, part­ner­ships and bank ac­counts,” it said.

In all, Manafort and Gates were hit with 12 charges of con­spir­acy against the US, con­spir­acy to laun­der money, fail­ing to reg­is­ter as a for­eign agent, mak­ing false state­ments and fail­ure to re­port off­shore bank ac­counts.

On Sun­day, Trump took to Twit­ter as spec­u­la­tion mounted charges were about to drop, call­ing the probe a “witch-hunt” and re­peat­ing de­nials that his White House cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sia.

But in an­other blow to the pres­i­dent, a Trump cam­paign aide has pleaded guilty to ly­ing to FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors prob­ing the cam­paign’s pos­si­ble links to Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments un­sealed yes­ter­day. Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, a for­eign pol­icy ad­viser to the cam­paign last year, en­tered the plea on Oc­to­ber 5, ad­mit­ting he sought to hide con­tacts with a Moscow-linked pro­fes­sor of­fer­ing dirt on Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton. “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 a short time af­ter Manafort and Gates were charged.

Manafort was among the par­tic­i­pants of a June 9 meet­ing last year with a Krem­lin-linked lawyer that raised sus­pi­cions of col­lu­sion between the cam­paign and Moscow.

The meet­ing was ar­ranged by Trump’s el­dest son, Don­ald jnr, in hopes of re­ceiv­ing dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion on Clin­ton.

A long-time po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive and con­sul­tant, Manafort was re­cruited in March last year to round up pro-Trump del­e­gates to the Repub­li­can Party con­ven­tion. Then in June, Trump named him cam­paign chair­man.

But he re­signed in Au­gust as Ukraine cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­leased files show­ing large pay­ments to Manafort com­pa­nies and it be­came clear he was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the US. With the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion en­ter­ing a dra­matic new phase, Repub­li­can of­fi­cials and con­ser­va­tive me­dia have stepped up at­tacks on Democrats – es­pe­cially Clin­ton.

In his tweets on Sun­day, Trump again com­plained of Clin­ton’s han­dling of e-mails 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.

ROBERT MUELLER

PAUL MANAFORT

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