Trump prosecutor charges ex-campaign chairman

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, left, leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington on Monday. Manafort, and a former business associate, Rick Gates, have been told to surrender to federal authorities. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election revealed its first targets Monday.

Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a former Manafort business associate were indicted on felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other counts.

Separately, ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about Russian s and is said to be cooperating with the prosecutor.

The charges ushered Mueller’s sprawling investigation into a new phase with felony charges and possible prison sentences for key members of the Trump campaign.

Trump quickly tweeted that the alleged misdeeds by his former campaign chairman were “years ago,” and he insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia. He added, as he has a number of times recently, “Why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”

The charges against Manafort and Rick Gates contend the men acted as unregistered foreign agents for Ukrainian interests. The indictments also include several other financial counts involving tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts.

Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, is a former foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaign. He pleaded guilty on Monday to making false statements and “material omissions” to the FBI about the nature of links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, according to a criminal statement filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Papadopoulos allegedly lied to federal investigators about his interactions with a professor with ties to the Kremlin, according to the statement of offence filed Monday. The professor told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Papadopoulos claimed that his interactions with the professor occurred before he joined the campaign.

But “in truth and in fact,” the criminal statement says, Papadopoulos learned he would be an adviser to the campaign in early March, and he met the professor on or about March 14, 2016. The professor “only took interest” in Papadopoulos because of his role in the campaign, and the professor told Papadopoulos about the “thousands of emails” on or about April 26, 2016, when he had been on board with the Trump operation for more than a month.

Manafort’s indictment doesn’t reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between the Kremlin and the president’s aides to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. The indictment does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

The indictment filed in federal court in Washington accused both men of funneling payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their political work in Ukraine. Manafort and Gates surrendered to federal authorities Monday, and were expected in court later in the day to face charges brought by Mueller’s team.

The indictment lays out 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. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.

A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately return calls or text messages requesting comment. Manafort and Gates have previously denied any wrongdoing.

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 indictments against Manafort and Gates were largely based on activities disclosed in August 2016 by The Associated Press, which reported that the pair had directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party.

The indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of orchestrating a nearly decade-long conspiracy to covertly work for Ukrainian interests and launder millions of dollars through offshore accounts. 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.

Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into whether the Kremlin worked with associates of the Trump campaign to tip the presidential election.

The appointment came one week after the firing of James Comey, who as FBI director led the investigation, and also followed the recusal months earlier of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the probe.

Mueller’s investigators have focused on Manafort for months. In July, they raided one of his homes in Virginia, searching for tax and international banking records.

Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and oversaw the convention delegate strategy. Trump pushed him out in August amid a steady stream of negative headlines about Manafort’s foreign consulting work.

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