Arrests mark extraordinary turn in investigation of Russian links
Actions of members of Trump administration veers close to territory of collusion
The indictment of three men associated with the Trump campaign marks an extraordinary development in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the US election.
Reports that arrests were imminent surfaced on Friday night, after CNN first reported that the federal grand jury in Washington had approved the first charges in Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Shortly after 8am on Monday morning, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort walked into the FBI office in Washington DC and surrendered. Shortly after, Rick Gates also turned himself in. At a 1.30pm court hearing both men pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges.
Mr Manafort’s arrest was not entirely unexpected; in July FBI agents raided his home in Alexandria, Virginia, just a few miles from DC.
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?????— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
....Also, there is NO COLLUSION!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
Although less well-known that Mr Manafort, who led the Trump campaign until he was dismissed in August following reports of an undisclosed $12 million payment from former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Mr Gates continued his association with the administration long after his mentor’s departure, playing a role in the president-elect’s inauguration committee.
The 31-page indictment paints a detailed picture of how Manafort channelled tens of millions of dollars of Ukrainian money through mainly Cypriot bank accounts to fund a lavish lifestyle in the US, using the money to pay interior decorators and antiques dealers and to settle bills at high-end clothes shops in New York.
The payments were hidden, not just from the US taxman, but also from federal authorities when both men began working for the Trump campaign – a criminal offence.
But while the 12 charges against Mr Manafort and Mr Gates are serious – money laundering alone commands a maximum prison sentence of 20 years – the revelation that George Papadopoulos, a more junior campaign member, sought to broker meetings with the Trump campaign and Russia is potentially more important. Details of emails between Mr Papadopoulos and senior campaign officials suggest a possible willingness to collude on the part of members of the Trump campaign. One exchange shows that a campaign official encouraged Papadopoulos to meet with Russian officials.
Top of the campaign
There are reports that the senior campaign official cited in the FBI document is Mr Manafort himself, Mr Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, which would suggest that individuals at the very top of the Trump campaign were willing to meet Russian officials.
This, together with revelations earlier this year that Mr Manafort, Donald Trump jnr and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Russian individuals on June 9th, 2016, in Trump Tower on the pretext of gaining information about Hillary Clinton, strays dangerously close to the territory of collusion.
A central question now is to what extent Mr Papadopoulos is co-operating with the FBI and whether he has furnished any other information concerning Manafort to investigators. In the meantime, many other members of the Trump administration who are currently employed in the White House may be feeling nervous as they wait to see if they will be questioned about how much they knew about links between the campaign team and Russian representatives.