Paul Manafort and business associate Rick Gates indicted while ex-adviser George Papadopoulos pleads guilty over Kremlin contacts
The special investigation into Russian election meddling closed in dramatically on Donald Trump on Monday, as news violated that a former foreign policy adviser pleaded guilty to perjury over his contacts with Russians connected with the Kremlin, and the president’s former campaign director and the other aide faced charges of money laundering.
In a day of rapid and surprising developments in Washington, George Papadopolous, the former foreign policy adviser, was revealed to have pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI researchers over his contacts last year with two people with apparently close ties to the Russian government. One was an unnamed professor- identified by the Washington Post as Joseph Mifsud- who offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Another was a woman who portrayed herself as” Putin’s niece “.
Meanwhile, in a federal courthouse in central Washington, Trump’s former campaign administrator, Paul Manafort, and a business associate, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty to an indictment for fund laundering, tax evasion, failure to register as agents for foreign interests and conspiracy to defraud the US government.
A federal magistrate ordered Manafort and Gates to be confined at home and defined bail at $10 m for Manafort and$ 5m for Gates.
The indictments were the first issued by Mueller since he was appointed special counseling in May, with broad powers to analyse Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign.
After the indictment of Manafort and Gates was exposed on Monday morning, Trump tweeted:” 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 ?????”
The president added: “… Also, there is NO COLLUSION !”
Later, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, played down the connection between the three men and the Trump campaign. She said of Manafort and Gates’s indictment:” Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, presidential campaigns or any campaign activity .”
Sanders played down the role of Manafort, who joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as convention manager, focusing on winning delegates at the 2016 Republican convention, and was promoted to campaign manager in June 2016 before resigning in August over his links to Ukraine. She said:” Paul Manafort was brought in to lead the delegate process, which he did, and was dismissed not too long after that .”
She also insisted Papadopoulos’s lies to the FBI about his contacts with Russia on behalf of the Trump campaign had” nothing to do with the activities of the campaign”, and repeatedly dismissed Papadopoulos as” a volunteer member on an advisory council “.
However, Trump himself had announced Papadopoulos’s appointment as a foreign policy consultant in March 2016, describing him as” an excellent guy “. The charges, which Papadopoulos accepted as accurate as part of his guilty plea, said Trump was present at a meeting of national security consultants where Papadopoulos boasted of his Russian connects and said he could help organise a meeting with Putin.
The charges, to which Papadolous pleaded guilty on 5 October, state that the unnamed woman he was in linked with was not related to the Russian president. But Papadopoulos’s links with her and the prof led to extensive contacts with Russian officials considering a Putin-Trump meeting and other high-level exchanges.
The professor referred to in the charges against Papadopoulos is said to have told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of” thousands of emails” at a meeting around April 26 2016, months before the Russian hack of Democratic party emails became publicly known.
A prosecutor representing Mueller’s office, Aaron Zelinsky, said at the October hearing that the Papadopoulos case was just a” small proportion” of” a large scale ongoing investigation”, according to a transcript of the court conference, adding weight to anticipation that Monday’s charges are the tip-off of an iceberg.
Collusion itself is not a crime, unless it rises to the level of espionage or treason. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to inducing false statements to FBI agents about the extent and timing of his contacts with Russians, and about his awareness of their links to the Kremlin.
His indictment alleges:” The professor told defendant Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing’ dirt’ on then-candidate Clinton in late April 2016, more than a month after defendant Papadopoulos had joined the campaign .”
Papadopoulos was arrested in July at Dulles airport when he returned from a journey abroad. The tribunal newspapers note that he subsequently” met with the government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions “. He was charged more than two months later.
‘A cause for deep concern’
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