WASHINGTON - Special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday revealed charges against three former Trump campaign officials - including onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort - marking the first criminal allegations to come from probes into possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.
The charges are striking for their breadth, touching all levels of the Trump campaign and exploring the possible personal, financial wrongdoing of those involved, as well as what appeared to be a concerted effort by one campaign official to arrange a meeting with Russian officials.
One of the three charged, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, admitted to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with a foreigner claiming to have high-level Russian connections.
Manafort and longtime business partner Rick Gates, meanwhile, were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges in connection with their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
The investigation, which the FBI began last year but escalated significantly with Mueller's appointment in May, has taken a heavy toll on the Trump administration, repeatedly putting the president on the defensive as reports have emerged about the work the special counsel team is doing.
Papadopoulos's plea agreement, signed earlier this month and unsealed Monday, described extensive efforts he made to try to broker connections with Russian officials and arrange a meeting between them and the Trump campaign. Emails show his offers were sometimes looked at warily, though more senior campaign officials at least entertained them.
Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty in a brief appearance in D.C. federal court Monday afternoon. A federal magistrate judge put the men on home confinement and set a $10 million unsecured bond for Manafort, and a $5 million unsecured bond for Gates.
Both surrendered their passports to the FBI. The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Nov. 2 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, a 2011 President Barack Obama appointee.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted 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."
The charges are a major step in the investigation, but they do not represent a conclusion. Court documents revealed that Papadopoulos, for example, has been cooperating with investigators for three months - having been first arrested and charged in July.
In a separate indictment, the special counsel alleged that Manafort and Gates laundered money for nearly a decade through scores of U.S. and foreign corporations and accounts, and gave false statements to the Justice Department and others when asked about their work on behalf of a foreign entity. The time period stretched into at least 2016, though it did not seem to involve the Trump campaign.
According to the indictment, Manafort and Gates arranged to hire two Washington-based lobbying firms to work on behalf of their Ukrainian clients, arranging meetings with U.S. officials and boosting their public image in the United States.
Prosecutors say that Manafort and Gates arranged for a Brussels-based nonprofit to nominally hire the Washington companies to hide the fact that the two men were working for Ukrainian government officials; otherwise they would have been required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Prosecutors say that when the Department of Justice approached Manafort and Gates in 2016 and 2017 about whether they should have registered as foreign agents for the work, they responded with false and misleading letters, according to the indictment.
Manafort and Gates also were accused of trying to hide funds kept in foreign bank accounts.
Paul Manafort (pictured above), Trump's former campaign chairman, faces nine counts spanning 2006-17, including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, failure to report foreign financial accounts, acting as an unregistered agent of Russia-friendly entities, and making false statements.
Rick Gates, Manafort's longtime business partner, faces eight counts of the same crimes as Manafort.
George Papadopoulos, former Trump policy adviser, admitted to making a false statement about his contact with a foreigner claiming to have high-level Russian connections.
SOURCE: U.S. District Court for District of Columbia, Washington Post