Two former Trump aides charged with criminal conspiracy

Former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Rick Gates plead not guilty to 12 charges

The attorney for Paul Manafort, the former presidential campaign manager for Donald Trump, says that there was no evidence his client colluded with the Russian government. Video: Reuters

 

The Russian investigation which has overshadowed Donald Trump’s presidency took a sensational turn on Monday as two former Trump aides were charged with criminal activity, including conspiracy against the United States.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort (68) and his business associate Rick Gates (45) appeared at the federal district court in Washington DC on Monday, having surrendered to the FBI shortly after 8am. They pleaded not guilty to 12 charges, and were released on bonds of $10 million and $5 million respectively. Both were placed under house arrest.

Separately, it emerged in FBI documents that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was arrested in July as he arrived at Washington’s Dulles airport. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI in January about the nature of his communication with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

While Mr Manafort’s and Mr Gates’s alleged crimes relate to their financial links with pro-Russian Ukrainians while working on the Trump campaign, Mr Papadopoulos’s arrest has potentially more serious ramifications for the Trump administration as the court documents show how Mr Papadopoulos tried to broker meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Off-the-record meeting

One exchange quoted in the FBI documents reveals that a member of the campaign team encouraged Mr Papadopoulos to make a trip for an off-the-record meeting with Russian officials “if feasible” – a statement that could indicate a willingness to collude with Russia by a member of the campaign team.

Mr Papadopoulos is understood to be now co-operating with the FBI.

Addressing reporters on Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the indictments had “nothing to do with the president, with the campaign or campaign activity”, claiming that most of the activity took place before the Trump campaign existed.

She said that Mr Papadopoulos was a volunteer who had an “extremely limited” role in the Trump campaign.

Speaking outside the court, a lawyer for Mr Manafort said that there was “no evidence that Mr Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government,” stating that his client, through his work for Ukrainian individuals, was seeking to “further democracy and help Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU.”

The 31-page indictment published by the FBI reveals how Mr Manafort and Mr Gates received tens of millions of dollars from pro-Russian Ukrainians including former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych for years, much of which was channelled through bank accounts in Cyprus, but was not disclosed.

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

No mention of Trump

The activities took place between approximately 2006 and up to “at least 2016” according to the FBI – a period which may cover Mr Manafort’s and Mr Gates’s involvement with the Trump campaign, though no mention is made of the president or his administration in the papers.

Regarding Mr Papadopoulos, the FBI affidavit alleges that the 30-year-old consultant made “material false statements and material omissions” during an FBI interview in January, including dismissing contacts with a professor in London as a “nothing” when he knew that the contact had “substantial connections to Russian government officials”. This “impeded the FBI’s ongoing investigation” into the existence of any links with the Trump campaign as part of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, the FBI said.