The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, announced charges on Oct. 30 against three former advisers to President Trump’s campaign, which some say has laid out the best evidence to that the the Trump campaign was trying to coordinate with the Russian government to damage the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, gave himself up to the FBI and pleaded not guilty to federal money laundering charges. It is alleged that he was cleaning money through overseas shell companies and used the money to buy real estate, cars, expensive clothes and antique rugs. Rick Gates, a long time friend and associate of Manafort and a campaign adviser, also was charged.
But more information from federal agents came in later, which could bring a political cost to President Trump. Mueller announced that George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In court documents that were released early this week, federal agents stated that they thought that Russian intelligence services were using intermediaries to contact Papdopoulos to get influence with the Trump campaign. They may have been offering ‘dirt’ on Clinton in April 2016, which allegedly consisted of thousands of possibly damaging emails.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in secret to lying to the FBI about the contacts and has been working with the prosecutors for Mueller for several months.
The announcements on Oct. 30 topped off several months of speculation about which of the campaign advisers for Trump may be the first to be charged by Mueller. These charges that came down seem to suggest that the investigation by the special counsel will not be finished any time soon.
It does seem clear from Papadopoulo’s admission and the emails that were related to a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that the Russians were offering to assist with Trump’s candidacy for the presidency and campaign officials were receptive to the possibility.
The US has concluded that President Putin in Russia tried to influence the 2016 election in the favor or Trump. In that effort, Russian agents apparently hacked Democratic accounts and released emails that were embarrassing to the Clinton campaign. Mueller and his team are looking into whether anyone close to Trump was working on that effort.
The announcements of indictments in the case caused waves around Washington DC early in the week and affected both parties. The Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta gave up his lobbying firm post the same day the indictments came down. The Podesta Group had been hired to perform lobbying work for Ukraine, which is at the heart of the Manafort indictment.
The tax evasion and money laundering federal case against Manafort involves a complex scheme where he was lobbying for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine and its leader Viktor Yanukovych. He then allegedly hid proceeds in various bank accounts in the Grenadines, Cyprus and other nations. Federal prosecutors say that he also laundered over $18 million and spent money in extravagant ways. The indictment reveals that he paid a home improvement company in the Hamptons almost $5.5 million. And, more than $1.3 million was paid to clothing stores in New York and Beverly Hills.
Manafort also purchased a $3 million brownstone in Brooklyn and a $3 million condominium in SoHo. The indictment states that Manafort used his overseas wealth to enjoy a very expensive and lavish lifestyle in the US without paying income taxes. He also has been charged with not registering as a foreign lobbyist.
If he is convicted, Manafort could face up to 20 years in prison. This lengthy federal prison sentence will put pressure on Manafort to give up information on other parties involved to get leniency. Manafort may be able to shed light on how well it was known in the campaign that Russia possessed damaging information on Clinton. According to a White House lawyer, the president was confident that Manafort did not have damaging information about him.
In a federal court appearance on Oct. 30, both Gates and Manafort pleaded not guilty and were put under house arrest.
Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, said to the media that the money laundering charges were absurd, and he noted in the last 50 years, prosecutors have charged only a few people with breaking foreign lobbying rules. Those type of violations are usually handled administratively and not criminally. He also noted that Manafort’s lobbying for Ukraine ended two years before he started to work with the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos Met With Russian Agents in March 2016
While he was traveling to Italy in March 2016, Papadopoulos met a professor of diplomacy in London who has extensive ties to the Russian government. The professor was interested in Papadopoulos because of his high status in the Trump campaign. That professor is Joseph Mifsud, according to a Senate aide. Two committees in the Senate are doing Russian inquiries on their own, and investigators are looking over thousands of emails that were written by Trump campaign operatives.
Mifsud introduced Papdopoulos to others, who included a person with ties to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a woman who he thought was related to Putin. Papdopoulos tried to get a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials., according to court records.
When FBI agents talked to Papdopoulos in January, he lied about contacting the Russians. FBI scrutiny continued, and Papdopoulos changed his phone number and deleted his Facebook account, which he had used to work with the Russians before.
FBI agents placed Papdopoulos under arrest at Dulles International Airport in late July, soon after FBI agents raided Manafort’s home in Virginia.
Overall, the special counsel run by Mueller has taken an aggressive stance in the Russian investigation, and the charges handed down on Oct. 30 were no exception.