The federal investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia took a major turn Monday as authorities charged three people — a former campaign chief, his associate and an ex-foreign policy adviser — with crimes including money laundering, lying to the FBI and conspiracy.
Paul Manafort, the campaign manager, and onetime business partner Rick Gates surrendered and later pleaded not guilty in Washington federal court. Separately, authorities disclosed that George Papadopoulos, the adviser, secretly pleaded guilty weeks ago and has been cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The accusations arrive after a months-long probe into possible crimes including obstruction of justice by Trump and other crimes by his associates. The general shape of the investigation into Manafort’s activities has been known for months. The charges against Papadopoulos were a revelation and indicate prosecutors are moving on multiple tracks. They are the most direct indication of coordination between the campaign and Russian officials.
Investigators are likely to pressure Manafort and Gates to cooperate with prosecutors in a bid for leniency and to disclose everything that they know about Trump’s campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Papadopoulos, who worked for the campaign from March 2016 to January, was in frequent communication with a “campaign supervisor” and “a high-ranking official” of the effort, according to court papers unsealed on Monday.
Papadopoulos made contacts with Russians who said they could supply “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Papadopoulos then told Trump officials they should arrange a meeting with Russians to discuss “U.S.-Russia ties,” according to the papers.
The adviser later broached the prospect of Trump’s getting together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the court papers said. Papadopoulos was also in email contact with a Russian who said he represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who thanked him “for an extensive talk.”
Such meetings never occurred, said Trump spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the charges “have nothing to do with the president.”
Papadopoulos lied to federal agents about the timing of his contacts, saying they happened before he joined the campaign, prosecutors said. After his arrest in July at Dulles International Airport near Washington, Papadopoulos met with authorities on “numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions,” according to the court documents.
Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old DePaul University graduate from Chicago, worked at the London Centre of International Law Practice at the time in question, from February 2016 to April 2016, according to his LinkedIn page. After getting a master’s degree in security studies from University College London, he was associated with Washington’s Hudson Institute from 2011 to 2015. The institute said Papadopoulos was an unpaid intern and later a contract researcher for one of its fellows.
As for Manafort, the 12-count indictment painted a picture of a high-flying operation, in which more than $75 million passed through offshore accounts. Prosecutors said he laundered more than $18 million to support a “lavish lifestyle” that included buying homes, cars and clothing, and accused him of defrauding institutions that loaned him money.
He and Gates, his longtime deputy, hid foreign accounts from the U.S., failed to disclose work for a foreign government and misrepresented their activities to authorities as recently as 2017, according to the indictment.
In court Monday afternoon, prosecutors said their foreign ties made the men flight risks and put them under house arrest ahead of a trial. Manafort posted a $10 million bond, while Gates put up a $5 million bond to be released. They also surrendered their passports.
In the packed courtroom, Manafort spent most of his time staring impassively, sometimes just looking down. Gates, too, sat quietly. As their not-guilty pleas were entered by their attorneys, neither man addressed the court except in response to directions to swear that whatever they said would be the truth, and to affirm that they understood the terms of their release and the consequences of their failure to comply.
Afterwards, Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lawyer, told reporters that the charges have nothing to do with the Trump campaign, and called them ridiculous.
Gates was fired Monday by real-estate company Colony NorthStar Inc., where he had been a consultant to Executive Chairman Tom Barrack, a wealthy Los Angeles investor and Trump confidant. Gates looks forward to defending himself in court, according to a statement from Glenn Selig, a spokesman.
“This fight is just beginning,” Selig said.
Lawyers for Papadopoulos declined to comment, saying they would do so in court.
The president took to Twitter to say that any wrongdoing by Manafort predated their relationship.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” Trump wrote. “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
The indictment, however, stated that Manafort’s illegal acts lasted into early 2017.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the probe as “the single greatest witch hunt in American political history.”
Manafort, 68, has been targeted by Mueller for months. A top Republican strategist who also worked extensively for foreign politicians, he left Trump’s campaign after only a few months in 2016. He departed after information surfaced about his work in Ukraine for a pro-Russian party, which intensified scrutiny of his business dealings.
Gates worked with Manafort on Trump’s campaign and in Ukrainian politics. After Manafort left the campaign, Gates remained, later joining the president-elect’s inaugural committee.
He attended meetings at the White House after Trump became president, according to one former staff member. Trump sought to distance himself from Gates and grew angry after he learned that Gates was still visiting the White House, two people familiar with the matter said.
As campaign chairman, Manafort attended a June 2016 meeting with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer that was arranged to offer incriminating information about Clinton.
In July 2017, FBI agents picked the lock of Manafort’s northern Virginia home, frisking his wife and copying data from electronic devices, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Manafort has said he cooperated with congressional inquiries about the campaign even as Mueller’s prosecutors combed through his taxes and finances.
Manafort, a lawyer whose father was mayor of New Britain, Connecticut, made his name working for Republican presidential candidates, including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.
He started lobbying and political-consulting firms that upended the way the Washington influence game worked by helping politicians win and then cashing in on the success, what one critic called an “institutionalized conflict of interest.”
He advised foreign leaders, some with unsavory reputations, on how to make themselves palatable to Washington. His roster included Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi and deposed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Putin.
Yanukovych’s Party of Regions hired Manafort in 2006 to recast its image, which had been marred by election-fraud allegations.
He helped teach Yanukovych to look and speak like an American politician, shepherding him to the presidency in 2010. Manafort also helped him defend the imprisonment of his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, an act widely condemned in the West.
Yanukovych left office in a 2014 uprising and now lives in exile in Russia. A handwritten ledger found in a party office said Manafort was paid at least $12.7 million from 2007 to 2012. In June, Manafort retroactively filed a foreign-agent registration that said the Party of Regions paid him $17.1 million in 2012 and 2013.