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Ex-Trump campaign manager Manafort, associate plead not guilty

Updated October 30, 2017 - 5:00 pm

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, who also worked on the campaign, turned themselves in to authorities Monday after being indicted on charges that included money laundering, income tax evasion and lying to federal investigators.

Both men pleaded not guilty. If convicted on all counts, each could face decades in federal prison and millions of dollars in potential fines.

None of the 12 charges against Manafort or Gates involved Trump’s 2016 campaign. But later Monday morning, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office unsealed an agreement with former Trump campaign national-security adviser, George Papadopoulos, 30, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Originally Papadopoulos told investigators he had met with an overseas professor with ties to the Russian government before he was involved with the campaign. Later the Chicago resident told investigators that he talked to the professor after he knew he would be an adviser to the Trump campaign.

The unidentified professor told him about the Russians possessing “thousands of emails” with “dirt” on 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The professor also introduced Papadopoulos to a “female Russian national,” referred to as a niece of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Papadopoulos repeatedly sent emails to campaign higher-ups with headings that included “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” No meeting was set and plans for Papadopoulos to travel to Moscow never materialized.

At Monday’s White House media briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, describing it as “extremely limited.” She said he was an unpaid member of “a voluntary advisory panel that met one time.”

Sanders: Not about Trump

She maintained that the guilty plea was not about the Trump 2016 campaign, but about Papadopoulos and “his failure to tell the truth.”

According to the signed statement, Papadopoulos told investigators he attended a March 31, 2016 “national security meeting” in Washington D.C. with Trump. He “introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”

There was no mention in the document about how Trump or any other attendees reacted. Asked about the meeting, Sanders responded, “I’m not sure that the president recalls specific details of the meeting. Again, it was a brief meeting that took place quite some time ago.”

Peter Hardy, a former federal prosecutor who serves as a defense attorney in Philadelphia, described the case as “a fairly rarified false statement charge.” In a normal case, he said, a misstatement of this sort would not rise to criminal charges, but here prosecutors have sent a message: “If they’ll charge this, presumably they’ll be willing to charge a lot of things.”

The 31-page indictment against Manafort and Gates contained 12 charges related to activities spanning back to 2006. The document charged that the two generated tens of millions in income while working for the government of Ukraine from 2006 to 2015 – income the two allegedly laundered across the globe. The indictment also charges the two with failing to register as lobbyists for a foreign government – the pro-Russian Party of Regions in Ukraine — and lying to the Justice Department about the contract.

According to the Special Counsel’s office, Manafort, 68, used “hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States,” and Gates, 45, used offshore funds to pay for his mortgage, children’s tuition and interior decorating of his Virginia home.

Manafort, who was fired as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016, used illicit income to purchase a New York property he rented out through Airbnb, according to the indictment. Manafort is alleged to have laundered more than $18 million he used to buy property and goods in the United States.

Manafort potentially faces up to 80 years in prison, according to a review of the federal charges and the relevant statutes by the Associated Press. Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, faces up to 70 years.

“It’s a pretty tight and strong charging indictment,” said Hardy. Details on the defendants’ big spending likely will serve as “red meat for the prosecution at trial.”

Under house arrest

Federal judge Deborah Robinson set bond at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates. She also placed the defendants under house arrest – “a fairly aggressive position by the government,” Hardy noted.

In July, federal agents searched Manafort’s Alexandria home during a high-profile pre-dawn raid.

Manafort attorney Kevin Downing called the indictment ridiculous, adding “there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.”

After the indictment was unsealed, Trump tweeted, “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?????”

Then he added, “Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

The Democratic National Committee released a statement in which chairman Tom Perez said the indictment “underscores the seriousness of the investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. It’s time for Republicans to commit to protecting this investigation and preserving the rule of law.”

UC Berkeley law professor John C. Yoo, who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, said that “Going after Manafort first means that Mueller is aiming at even bigger game, and that he wants to wrap up the investigation quickly.”

“Despite what the president wants us to believe, today’s indictment is not fake news,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., responded in a statement. “Mueller’s investigation must continue with no outside influence or partisan bickering in order to get to the truth. We must do all we can to protect the integrity of our democracy even if the path leads to the Oval Office.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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