Mueller indicts former Trump campaign aides
Former Trump campaign chief and associate are indicted
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates plead not guilty to conspiracy and money laundering in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference.
WASHINGTON – Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation produced on Monday its first criminal charges, its first guilty plea and first public confirmation that an aide to President Trump’s campaign sought an allegiance with Russians to gather “dirt” on his political rival.
The series of charges unsealed early Monday morning is a significant step in the federal investigation of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, which Trump has dismissed as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” While Mueller did not allege that Trump or his campaign colluded with Moscow, the charges offer the first public view into a far-flung criminal investigation that has cast a shadow on the president’s first year in office.
In one case, ex-Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to a charge that he lied to FBI agents about his contacts with a professor he believed “had substantial connections to Russian government officials” during the campaign. The professor offered him “dirt” — in the form of thousands of emails — on Trump’s election opponent, Hillary Clinton.
A grand jury also indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates on charges that they secretly worked on behalf of Legal filings suggest special counsel Robert Mueller is willing to dig back before the campaign into activities by Trump associates. pro-Russian factions in Ukraine, then laundered millions of dollars in profits through foreign bank accounts. Prosecutors charged that the men sought to cover up their work even while they held senior roles in Trump’s campaign. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges. A judge on Monday placed them under house arrest, setting bond at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates.
At the White House, Trump and his aides sought to downplay the significance of the charges, suggesting that the work Manafort and Gates did in Ukraine was unconnected to the campaign and that Papadopoulos was a low-level official with little access or influence.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” the president tweeted. “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus ????? ”
Trump insisted that his campaign had no cooperation with Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community has accused of using cyberattacks and fake news to influence the election in favor of Trump. “Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” he tweeted.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Mueller’s charges have “nothing to do with the president ... nothing to do with the president’s campaign.”
But Mueller did draw links between the charges and Trump’s campaign. In a court filing signed by both prosecutors and Papadopoulos, Trump’s former campaign aide acknowledged meeting with people he believed were connected to the Russian government while he was serving as an adviser to Trump. And the grand jury’s indictment of Manafort and Gates alleged that they sought to cover up their Ukraine connections while they worked for Trump.
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat and on Senate committee conducting its own investigation of Russian meddling, called Manafort’s indictment “a significant and sobering step in what will be a complex and likely lengthy investigation.”
Papadopoulos was arrested in July, after he returned to the United States from a trip to Germany. But a judge agreed to keep the case secret until Monday after Mueller’s office said that he had agreed to cooperate with investigators. Revealing his arrest “could alert other subjects to the direction and status of the investigation,” Mueller’s team said in court documents.
The former aide acknowledged in a court filing that he misled FBI agents about his conversations with a professor who told him the Russian government had obtained “thousands of emails” with dirt on Clinton. The exchange came amid widespread publicity about Clinton’s use of a private email server, and months before the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks released internal Democratic National Committee emails that cast an embarrassing light on her campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the DNC’s emails were hacked at the behest of the Russian government.
While collecting information on political opponents is routine in presidential campaigns, the involvement of a foreign government is remarkable. Papadopoulos’ acknowledgement is the first link Mueller has publicly drawn between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Mueller’s prosecutors also unsealed an array of charges against Manafort and Gates related to their work for the government of Ukraine, which began long before both men joined Trump’s campaign. The charges include 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as foreign agents and making false statements to investigators.
After surrendering to FBI agents, Manafort and Gates appeared briefly in federal court in the afternoon. Both men surrendered their passports and are now required to remain confined in their homes, except for approved trips to consult with attorneys or receive medical treatment.
Their indictment makes no reference to Manafort’s work on Trump’s campaign. But it alleges that Manafort’s efforts to conceal his work on behalf of Ukraine continued while he was running the campaign. As late as Aug. 19, 2016, three days before Trump fired him, the indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates sent “false talking points” to one of the political consulting firms they had hired to lobby on behalf of pro-Russian factions in Ukraine.
Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, called the charges “ridiculous” and said his work for Ukraine ended two years before he joined Trump’s campaign. “President Donald Trump was correct,” Downing said in a statement. “There is no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russia government.”
Gates spokesman Glenn Selig said he “welcomes the opportunity to confront these charges in court.”
A grand jury charges Paul Manafort worked to influence the government, then laundered profits.
Rick Gates, a Manafort associate, also was charged. Both men pleaded not guilty.