Sunday, February 23, 2020

Manafort indicted; ex-Trump aide pleads in Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election revealed its first targets Monday, with a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump admitting he lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Separately, 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.

The guilty plea by the former adviser, George Papadopoulos, marked the first criminal count that cites interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian intermediaries during the campaign.

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?????”

Papadopoulos’ plea occurred on Oct. 5 and was unsealed Monday. In court papers, he admitted lying about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents working for special counsel Mueller about his dealings with several Russians who were offering “dirt” on Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

The separate 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.

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.

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