WASHINGTON – Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate surrendered to federal authorities Monday on felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence on the 2016 election.
Meanwhile, a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos, entered a guilty plea in the investigation, admitting he lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.
The indictment swept up Manafort’s onetime business partner and protégé Rick Gates, but it makes no allegations about the 2016 election. Both pleaded not guilty.
It alleges 12 counts, including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, being an unregistered foreign agent, misleading statements and failing to file reports of foreign bank accounts. The charges relate to overseas business operations.
Watch Manafort walking into FBI headquarters with his attorney:
Papadopoulos, whose Oct. 5 guilty plea was unsealed Monday, admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” offering “dirt” on Clinton who allegedly were attempting to line up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to Mueller’s filing, Papadopoulos met with a female Russian national on March 24, 2016, shortly after learning he had become a campaign adviser. Papadopoulos believed the Russian had connections with the Russian government and could arrange a meeting with the Trump campaign. The next month, he met with a professor in London who said operatives in Moscow had “thousands” of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The filing, however, does not specify whether the reference was to the emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s computers.
Responding to reporters at the White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Sarah Sanders said Papadopoulos didn’t have an influential role in the campaign, describing him as a volunteer on an advisory council that met one time during the year.
“Any actions he took would have been on his own,” Sanders said.
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump emphasized the Manafort indictment had nothing to do with Russian collusion.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” Trump tweeted. ‘But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” he said.
Mueller was appointed to investigate claims of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign after the Democrats’ 2016 election loss, but now there are allegations against Democrats.
Last week, the Washington Post reported Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the research for the largely fabricated anti-Trump dossier. Late Wednesday, a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission charging Clinton’s campaign and the DNC violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose payments for the dossier. Also last week, a source claimed that the Podesta Group, run by John Podesta’s brother Tony, is a target of Mueller’s investigation. And The Hill reported that before a government panel in which Hillary Clinton was a member approved the sale of a company controlling 20 percent of U.S. uranium reserves, the FBI was sitting on evidence Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to expand Moscow’s nuclear business in the U.S.
In addition, a congressional inquiry led by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is focusing on how aides to President Obama “unmasked” individuals caught up in government surveillance.
Manafort has denied wrongdoing. Many of the charges date back as far as 2006.
Among the allegations is that Manafort moved $75 million to offshore accounts without declaring the income for taxation purposes. He then allegedly used $18 million to “fund a lavish lifestyle,” as the London Daily Mail described it.
FBI agents staged an early morning raid on Manafort’s home last summer, confiscating records.
According to the New York Times, Gates’ name appears on documents linked to companies that Manafort’s firm established in Cyprus to receive payments from his clients in Eastern Europe.
President Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, assured reporters last week Manafort does not have damaging information about the president to offer prosecutors.
“The president has no concerns in terms of any impact, as to what happens to them, on his campaign or on the White House,” Cobb said.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and developed a strategy that convinced delegates not to break with Trump in favor of establishment candidates. Trump then appointed the veteran Republican strategist as chairman and chief strategist of his campaign.
Months later, Trump fired Manafort after learning his chairman received more than $12 million in undisclosed payments from former Ukrainian president Victor F. Yanukovych, who he spent years working for as a political consultant.
The case advanced amid claims Russian President Vladimir Putin colluded with Trump campaign officials to rig the 2016 presidential election against Hillary Clinton.
Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department in May to lead the investigation into Trump campaign officials’ relationships with Russian operatives. But the focus now actually may be turning to the Democrats.
President Trump contends the “real Russia story” is the sale of 20 percent of U.S. uranium assets to a Russian company under Clinton’s watch.
Critics also have pointed to Mueller’s relationship with fired FBI chief James Comey and the fact that he stacked his team of investigators with lawyers who had openly supported Hillary Clinton in the election. The Mail reported it was unclear if Mueller still has a strategy to “squeeze” Manafort” for information about the 2016 election “and Russian’s possible interference with it.”
The allegations concern actions that all predate the Trump campaign, and Trump’s name doesn’t appear in the 31-page indictment by Mueller, who in the document makes no allegations of collusion with Russia.
The case has been assigned to Judge Amy Jackson, an Obama appointee.