WASHINGTON -- Special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday revealed charges against three former officials with President Donald Trump's campaign, the first criminal allegations to come from probes into possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.
Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner, onetime Trump aide Rick Gates, were indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts as part of their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.
Manafort and Gates pleaded innocent in a brief appearance in D.C. federal court Monday afternoon. A federal magistrate judge put the men under house arrest, and both surrendered their passports to the FBI. The next hearing in the case is to be Thursday before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, a 2011 appointee of President Barack Obama who previously worked as federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia.
Manafort's indictment doesn't refer to the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between Russia and campaign aides. But it does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.
The third man charged -- former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos -- has already pleaded guilty to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with a foreigner claiming to have high-level Russian connections. He admitted in newly unsealed court papers that he was told in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails had been hacked.
Papadopoulos' plea agreement was signed earlier this month and unsealed Monday. Mueller's office revealed in a court filing that Papadopoulos was now assisting the investigation as a "proactive cooperator."
The investigation, which the FBI began last year but escalated significantly with Mueller's appointment in May, has repeatedly put the president on the defensive as reports have emerged about the work the special counsel team is doing.
The president himself took to Twitter to declare in all capital letters that there is "no collusion," after tweeting, "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"
Trump's spokesman and lawyer also sought to cast the charges as more damaging to Clinton.
"Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "The real collusion scandal, as we've said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, [research firm] Fusion GPS and Russia."
Sanders said Trump had little 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."
One person familiar with Trump's thinking said the president dismissed the money-laundering charges against Manafort as typical political corruption that did not reflect on his campaign.
Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer overseeing the administration's handling of the Mueller probe, said, "The one thing that's clear is there's no reference to collusion, no reference to the president."
Asked about the indictments while attending a luncheon in Little Rock, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was not surprised.
"I think it shows the seriousness of the investigation, the very substantive work that Bob Mueller is doing," Hutchinson said. "Beyond that, this is a process that you've got to see unfold and learn more about it."
Sanders said Trump had "no intention or plan to make any changes with regard to the special counsel," and Cobb said there had been no talk of possible pardons for Manafort or Gates.
"No, no, no. That's never come up and won't come up," Cobb said in an interview.
Outside the D.C. courthouse, Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, said: "President Donald Trump was correct. There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort and the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government."
Glenn Selig, a Gates spokesman, said Gates "welcomes the opportunity to confront these charges in court."
"This fight is just beginning," Selig said.
Court documents revealed that Papadopoulos was first arrested and charged in July after landing at Dulles International Airport on a flight from Germany.
Papadopoulos had been a member of Trump's foreign policy team. When The Washington Post asked Trump about the team in March 2016, he said of Papadopoulos, "He's an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy."
Earlier that month, Papadopoulos, 30, first communicated with a professor in London with links to the Russian government, according to court documents unsealed Monday. The professor was later identified as Joseph Mifsud, according to a Senate aide familiar with the case.
The professor took interest in Papadopoulos "because of his status with the campaign," court documents said.
The relationship between Papadopoulos and Mifsud would lead Papadopoulos to two other people with ties to the Russian government and to attempts to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, the documents said.
Papadopoulos emailed a campaign supervisor and other members of the campaign's foreign policy team, claiming the professor had introduced him to Russian President Vladimir Putin's niece and the Russian ambassador in London, and the purpose was "to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump," court documents said.
The government noted the woman was not Putin's niece, and the meeting with the Russian ambassador never happened. But through the summer of 2016, Papadopoulos continued to correspond with the woman and the professor about a meeting between the Trump campaign, possibly including Trump himself, and Russian officials.
"The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready," Papadopoulos wrote to a senior policy adviser for the campaign on April 25, 2016.
At one point, a campaign official forwarded one of Papadopoulos's emails to another campaign official, saying, "We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal." DT would appear to be a reference to Donald Trump.
When the FBI first interviewed Papadopoulos in January, he told agents that Mifsud was "a nothing." But Papadopoulos now acknowledges that he knew the professor had "substantial connections to Russian government officials."
After he was interviewed by the FBI a second time, Papadopoulos changed his phone number and deleted a Facebook account that he used to communicate with Russian officials, according to the court documents.
Sanders said Papadopoulos had an "extremely limited" volunteer role in the campaign, and said that "no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard." When asked about a photo showing Papadopoulos as a member of the foreign policy team, Sanders replied, "The president has thousands of photographs with millions of people."
Attempts to reach Papadopoulos, who is based in Chicago, and his relatives in that area were unsuccessful Monday.
Lawyers for Papadopoulos said in a statement: "We will have the opportunity to comment on George's involvement when called upon by the Court at a later date. We look forward to telling all of the details of George's story at that time."
The indictment naming Manafort and Gates alleges that more than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.
Manafort, 68, was fired as Trump's campaign chairman in August 2016 after word surfaced that he had orchestrated a covert lobbying operation on behalf of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The indictment against Manafort and Gates was largely based on activities disclosed in August 2016 by The Associated Press, which reported that the pair had managed a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine's ruling political party.
Specifically, the indictment accuses Manafort of using "his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income." That included using offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties in the U.S., some of which the government is seeking to seize.
The indictment also cites more than $900,000 in payments to an antique rug store, about $850,000 to a New York men's clothing store and the purchase of a Mercedes Benz and multiple Range Rovers.
Manafort also had registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for parts of Ukrainian work that occurred in Washington. The filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act came retroactively, a tacit acknowledgment that he operated in Washington in violation of the federal transparency law. The indictment Monday accuses Manafort and Gates of making several false and misleading statements in that Foreign Agents Registration Act filing.
Manafort and Gates also were accused of trying to hide funds kept in foreign bank accounts -- Manafort from 2011 to 2014, and Gates from 2012 to 2014. And Manafort was accused of filing fraudulent tax returns, stating on tax forms he filed from 2008 to 2014 that he controlled no foreign bank accounts.
Manafort has expected charges since this summer, when FBI agents raided his home and prosecutors warned him that they planned to indict him. That warning raised speculation that Manafort might try to cut a deal to avoid prosecution.
People close to Manafort, including his former business partner Roger Stone, have said he had nothing to offer that would help prosecutors build a case against Trump.
"He's not going to lie," Stone said in September.
While Mueller's probe has focused on Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, investigators have shown interest in a broad array of other topics.
Those include meetings the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow in December, and a June 2016 meeting at Trump tower involving the president's son, Donald Jr., and a Russian lawyer. Mueller's team has requested extensive records from the White House, covering areas including the president's private discussions about firing James Comey as FBI director and his response to news that Flynn was under investigation, according to two people briefed on the requests.
Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice leading up to Comey's firing.
Information for this article was contributed by Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman, Carol D. Leonnig Spencer S. Hsu, Devlin Barrett, Alice Crites, Sari Horwitz, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller, Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Adam Entous of The Washington Post; by Eileen Sullivan, Glenn Thrush, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times; by John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; and by Chad Day, Eric Tucker, Zeke Miller, Jonathan Lemire, Michael Biesecker, Stephen Braun, Tom LoBianco, Sadie Gurman, Ken Thomas and Jeff Horwitz of The Associated Press.
A court artist drawing shows Paul Manafort (center), President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, a Manafort associate, in federal court on Monday.
A Section on 10/31/2017
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