Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates have been charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money and making false statements.
It marked the first criminal allegations to come from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Gates did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort. Manafort was spotted walking into the FBI’s Washington Field Office Monday morning.
Washington — especially those in political and media circles — had been anxiously anticipating the charges since CNN reported Friday night that a grand jury had approved the first charges in Mueller’s investigation. That report was soon matched by others, including Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, though affiliates of many involved said they were in the dark as to what was about to come. About a dozen reporters staked out the entrance to the federal courthouse in downtown D.C. Monday morning, waiting for any glimpse of prosecutors or possible defendants.
Spokespeople for Mueller and the Justice Department declined to comment over the weekend. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Monday, and a spokesman for the special counsel’s office did not return messages seeking comment.
Mueller was appointed in May to oversee the probe of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, taking over work that the FBI had begun in July 2016. Their interest in Manafort, though, dates back to at least 2014 — long before Mueller was appointed or Manafort was connected to the Trump campaign.
Prosecutors have been probing Manafort’s work as a political consultant in Ukraine, where he advised a Russia-friendly political party for years before his work with Trump. They have also been examining Manafort’s personal finances, and exploring possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, possible failure to register foreign bank accounts and related tax violations, according to a person familiar with the case.
While Mueller’s probe has focused acutely on Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, investigators have shown interest in a broad array of other topics.
Those include meetings the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow in December, and a June 2016 meeting at Trump tower involving the president’s son, Donald Jr., and a Russian lawyer. Mueller’s team has requested extensive records from the White House, covering areas including the president’s private discussions about firing James B. Comey as FBI director and his response to news that Flynn was under investigation, according to two people briefed on the requests.
Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice leading up to Comey’s firing. His team has been actively presenting records and bringing witnesses before the grand jury in D.C. for the last three months.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, and Trump tapped him to serve as campaign chairman in May of that year. He left in August 2016, but Gates, his business partner and protege, continued to play an important role with the campaign even after Manafort’s departure. After the election Gates directed the inauguration plans, including fundraising, under Tom Barrack, Trump’s close friend and adviser.
Any grand jury indictment would be shared with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who is acting as the attorney general because Jeff Sessions, having served as a surrogate for the Trump campaign, recused himself from the matter.
Late Friday afternoon, the federal court’s chief judge, Beryl A. Howell, presided as host for a ceremonial portrait unveiling of a fellow judge and explained to the crowd of hundreds of guests that Rosenstein could not be present because of an important meeting he was called to at the Justice Department.
FBI agents working for Mueller raided Manafort’s home in Alexandria in late July, armed with a search warrant that allowed them to enter at dawn without warning the occupants. Such an invasive search is only allowed after prosecutors have persuaded a federal judge that they have evidence of a crime and they have reasonable concern that key evidence could be destroyed or withheld.
Prosecutors also warned Manafort they planned to indict him, according to two people familiar with the exchange. Manafort associates had said Friday evening, though, they had no indication that Manafort has been or would be indicted.
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