Monday 18 June 2018

Russia probe: Former aide pleads guilty, two others indicted, as White House says charges 'nothing to do with Trump'

  • Manafort and Gates plead not guilty to charges
  • Manafort lawyer:  No evidence client colluded with Russia
  • Most serious development in long-running Mueller probe sees three charged
  • Aide pleads guilty to making false statements on Russian links
  • 'As it relates to the president, this is nothing' - source
  • White House: Indictments have no effect on White House cooperation with special counsel
  • Trump 'will not interfere with investigation' - Trump lawyer
  • The White House has held a press conference answering questions on the issue
Kevin Downing, attorney for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, speaks to reporters after a hearing to answer charges related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, at the federal courthouse in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Paul Manafort of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's staff listens during a round table discussion on security at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., August 17, 2016. Picture taken August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort (2nd R), campaign official Rick Gates (2ndL) and daughter Ivanka (R) look on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, one focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Karen Freifeld

The attorney for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said there was no evidence Manafort colluded with the Russian government while working for the campaign and in fact his work on behalf of Ukraine had ended two years earlier.

Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, surrendered to the FBI on Monday and another ex-aide pleaded guilty to lying to agents in the most serious steps yet of a federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort, 68, a longtime Republican operative, arrived at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington field office to hand himself in after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including money laundering and conspiracy against the United States.

In a separate announcement on Monday, the office of Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller said former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty on October 5 to making false statements to FBI agents in the Russia probe. Papadopoulos is an international energy lawyer.

Manafort's associate Rick Gates was named alongside Manafort in the 12-count indictment, which was the first from Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian interference in last year's campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favor.

Neither Trump nor his campaign were mentioned in the indictment and many of the charges, some of which go back more than a decade, appear related to Manafort's work for Ukraine's pro-Russian government and political figures there.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort (2nd R), campaign official Rick Gates (2ndL) and daughter Ivanka (R) look on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Lawyers for both entered guilty pleas on behalf of their clients on Monday afternoon.

The attorney for Manafort said on Monday there was no evidence Manafort colluded with the Russian government while working for the campaign and in fact his work on behalf of Ukraine had ended two years earlier.

"I think you all saw today that President Donald Trump was correct. There is no evidence that Mr Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government," attorney Kevin Downing told reporters after Manafort pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other charges.

"Mr Manafort represented pro-European Union campaigns for the Ukrainians and ... was seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU," Downing said. "Those activities ended in 2014 over two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump campaign."

Meanwhile, it is believed Papadopoulos has signed a plea deal and is cooperating with the probe.

Documents released on Monday show that Papadopoulos had contacts with an overseas professor who told him he has "dirt" on then-candidate Hilary Clinton.

The Washington Post reports that the filings show several updates provided by Popadopoulos to Trump campaign officials about his efforts to broker meetings between the campaign and the Russian government.

Russia investigations by Mueller and several congressional panels have cast a shadow over the Republican president's first nine months in office and have widened the rift between Republicans and Democrats.

Manafort ran the Trump campaign from June to August of 2016 before resigning amid reports he might have received millions in illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

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Paul Manafort of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's staff listens during a round table discussion on security at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., August 17, 2016. Picture taken August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Trump, who has denied any allegations of collusion with the Russians, reiterated on Monday his public frustration with the Mueller probe, which he has called "a witch hunt."

"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 said in a Twitter post on Monday morning, referring to his Democratic rival last year, Hillary Clinton.

"As it relates to the president, this is nothing," a Trump adviser said of the charges, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It had nothing to do with their tenure at the campaign as far as I can tell,” he said.

The indictment contains counts of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine's government, false and misleading statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, the federal special counsel said.

The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

2017-10- (784).jpg
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, one focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer called for the Trump administration to avoid interfering with the special prosecutor's probe.

"The rule of law is paramount in America and the investigation must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way," Schumer said.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations of campaign meddling.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the election to try to help Trump defeat Clinton, by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her.

Wall Street opened lower on Monday, pulling back from a strong rally last week, as investors assessed the fallout of the indictment.

Mueller has been investigating Manafort’s financial and real estate dealings and his prior work for that political group, the Party of Regions, which backed former Ukrainian President Viktor

A federal grand jury issued the indictment on Friday and a federal judge ordered it sealed, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

Gates was a long-time business partner of Manafort and has ties to many of the same Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. He also served as deputy to Manafort during his brief tenure as Trump’s campaign chairman.

Manafort was indicted on nine counts and Gates was indicted on eight counts.

The White House has said the indictments will have no effect on White House dealings with the special counsel investigation.

Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has told CNN the president will not be firing Mueller.

"The president is not interfering with special counsel Mueller's position, he's not firing the special counsel. He's said that before," Sekulow said in an interview with CNN.

In a press conference at the White House this afternoon Sarah Sanders, press advisor to president Trump, said today's indictment has "nothing to do with the activities of the campaign".

"Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity," she said.

"We've been saying from day one there's no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all," she added.

 

She said the position held by George George Papadopoulos was "extremely limited" and a volunteer position.

The spokeswoman also said the president had not had contact with Paul Manafort in 'several months'.

 

What are the charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates?

Manafort potentially faces up to 80 years in prison, according to a review of the federal charges and the relevant statutes by the Associated Press.

Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, faces up to 70 years.

Prosecutors could still file additional charges against the pair. If convicted at trial, the law gives federal judges wide latitude in imposing prison sentences and fines.

Here is a summary of the charges in the 31-page indictment and the potential penalties:

COUNT ONE: Conspiracy Against the United States

Both men are charged with conspiring together and with others to knowingly and intentionally defraud and commit crimes against the United States between 2006 and 2007. If found guilty, each potentially faces up to five years in prison and up to 10,000 dollars (€8,596) in fines.

COUNT TWO: Conspiracy to Launder Money

Both men are charged with conspiring together and with others to transfer funds from outside the United States to and through places inside the country without properly disclosing the transactions or paying required federal taxes. Penalties for this count include up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of either 500,000 dollars (€429,830) or twice the monetary value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater.

COUNTS THREE TO SIX: Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

The indictment alleges that for each calendar year between 2012 and 2015, Manafort failed to disclose to the US Treasury Department that he had a financial interest in and authority over bank accounts in a foreign country involving more than 10,000 dollars (€8,596). Penalties include up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the four counts and fines of up to 100,000 dollars, (€85, 960)or up to 50pc of the total value for the transactions, for each of the four years in the counts.

COUNTS SEVEN THROUGH NINE: Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

The indictment alleges that between 2012 and 2014, Gates failed to disclose to the US Treasury Department that he had a financial interest in and authority over bank accounts in a foreign country involving more than 10,000 dollars (€8,596). Penalties include up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the four counts and fines of up to 100,000 dollars (€85, 960) or up to 50pc of the total value for the transactions, for each of the four years in the counts.

COUNT 10: Unregistered Agent of a Foreign Principal

Prosecutors allege that both men failed to register with the US attorney general as foreign agents of the government of Ukraine, the Part of Regents and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych between 2008 and 2014. Penalties include up to five years in federal prison and up to 10,000 dollars (€8,596) in fines.

COUNT 11: False and misleading statements under the Foreign Agents Registration Act

The indictment alleges that both men made multiple false statements to federal officials in relation to their failure to register as foreign agents of the Ukrainian government. Penalties include up to five years in federal prison and up to 10,000 dollars (£7,500) in fines.

COUNT 12: False Statements

Prosecutors allege that between November 2016 and February 2017, Manafort and Gates conspired together and caused others to make false statements and conceal crimes against the United States. The penalty is up to five years in prison.

Reuters

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