Former Trump adviser admits lying to FBI agents

Two other senior figures in US president’s campaign indicted by special counsel

The former chairman of the Trump campaign has surrendered to the FBI, in the first indictment by a federal grand jury as part of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference into the US election. Video: Reuters

 

Two senior figures in the Trump election campaign have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington DC, charged with 12 crimes, including conspiracy against the United States.

Lobbyist Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump election campaign, and his long-time business associate Rick Gates, have been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian interference in the US election.

The 31-page indictment signed by Mueller documents how both men received money from pro-Russian Ukrainians including former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, much of which was channelled through bank accounts in Cyprus, but was not disclosed.

Mr Manafort (68) and Mr Gates (45) surrendered to the FBI in Washington DC on Monday morning. They were arraigned later in the day at a federal courthouse in the city.

Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. The judge ordered house arrest for both men and set a $10 million unsecured bond for Manafort and an unsecured bond for Gates at $5 million.

With unsecured bonds, they are released without having to pay, but will owe money if they fail to appear in court. There will be another hearing on Thursday.

Another former adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, George Papadopolous, has pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents, the federal special counsel revealed on Monday, making him the third adviser to face criminal charges in the investigation.

Mr Papadopolous, of Chicago, is an international energy lawyer who was part of Trump’s advisory team during the 2016 presidential campaign. He pleaded guilty on October 5th in a case unsealed on Monday, the special counsel’s office said in a statement.

The court document said Papadopolous made false statements to the FBI shortly after Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, when the law enforcement agency had an open investigation into Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign.

The special counsel said Papadopoulos told FBI agents he had been in contact with an unnamed foreign “professor” who claimed to have “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails”, and that Papadopolous claimed such contacts occurred before he joined Trump’s campaign.

However, the prosecutor said Papadopolous did not meet the professor until after he joined Trump’s campaign.

Papadopoulos made a plea bargain which stated that he had since “met with the government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions”, according to the document.

Trump tweets

Mr Trump responded to the developments on Twitter on Monday morning: “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?????” he said, following minutes later with a second tweet: “.... Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the indictment had nothing to do with Trump or his campaign and showed no evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia.

“We’ve been saying from day one there’s no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all,” Ms Sanders told a news briefing.

She also played down Papadopoulos’s campaign role, saying it was “extremely limited” and that he was a volunteer.

“He asked to do things [and] he was basically pushed back or not responded to in any way,” she told a news briefing. “Any actions that he took would have been on his own.”

Paul Manafort was a prominent figure in the Trump campaign but stood down in August 2016 over his links with pro-Russian figures in Ukraine. However, Rick Gates remained in contact with the Trump campaign and was involved with the inaugural committee.

The indictment against the two men contains 11 others counts including: conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

“Manafort and Gates engaged in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign in the United States at the direction of Yanukovych, the Party of Regions, and the government of Ukraine. Manafort and Gates did so without registering and providing the disclosures required by law,” the document states.

In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment.

The activities took place between 2006 and 2017 – a period which covers Mr Manafort and Mr Gates’s involvement with the Trump campaign, though no mention is made of the president or his administration in the papers.

Monday’s indictment was expected after reports over the weekend that the grand jury was preparing to press charges as early as today.

Robert Mueller was appointed by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein in May as special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election after Mr Trump fired the head of the FBI, James Comey.

US intelligence services had already announced in January that they believed that Russia had interfered in last year’s election. But it is believed that Mr Mueller is also investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Russia.

Investigation’s progress

Mr Mueller’s investigation has been proceeding behind the scenes in Washington.

In recent weeks former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer were interviewed as the investigation into Russian interference in the election deepened. Separate investigations are being conducted by the House of Representatives and the Senate.

FBI agents raided Mr Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, in July and seized documents and materials.

It had previously been reported that references to $12 million in undisclosed payments to Mr Manafort from former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich were found in documents.

President Trump has frequently dismissed allegations of connections with Russia, dismissing the investigation as a “witch-hunt.”

Earlier this year, details emerged of a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump jnr, White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and others.

Mr Trump’s eldest son admits he attended in the hope of gaining incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Additional reporting: Reuters