- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2017

The special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election last year dropped two bombshells Monday, announcing a guilty plea from a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russian operatives, and unsealing charges of money laundering and tax evasion against two top Trump campaign figures.

George Papadopoulos, the foreign policy adviser, admitted he had been in touch with Russian-connected figures trying to arrange a meeting between candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and sought to dig up “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

At one point, a Russian-connected operative said they had “thousands of emails” on Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Papadopoulos was arrested in July and pleaded guilty in early October, but the charges and plea were not unsealed until Monday. His attorneys said in a court document that he had been cooperating with investigators to offer information and documents to prosecutors in exchange for dropping an obstruction of justice charge.

Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller announced a 12-count indictment against Paul Manafort, a onetime Trump campaign chairman, and top Manafort associate Richard Gates. The indictment accused the two men of orchestrating a long-running operation to represent the pro-Russian government of Ukraine and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and laundering the payments they received for the work through companies and foreign bank accounts.

The indictment also charges that the two men failed to disclose their role as foreign agents and lied to cover up the scheme.

SEE ALSO: White House: Nothing to see here; go find Clinton

The White House insisted that the developments didn’t affect Mr. Trump and that none of the charges involved the campaign.

In the case of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates, the key behavior happened years before they joined the campaign. Mr. Papadopoulos‘ guilty plea was for lying to investigators.

“We’ve been saying from Day One, there’s been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

But Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, said it’s telling that Mr. Papadopoulos is cooperating.

“It means that there’s more information that he is in a position to provide,” he said. “We would expect to see more shoes drop over the next couple of months. The fact that there is continuing cooperation indicates the Robert Mueller investigation is not wrapped up, as President Trump and others on his side had been suggesting.”

Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates entered pleas of not guilty when they appeared in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on Monday afternoon.

Special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said the government believes both men are flight risks because of their significant ties abroad, but he said those risks could be mitigated with appropriate supervision.

Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ordered the men to serve home confinement and make daily phone calls to pretrial services. She also agreed to prosecutors’ request to set a $10 million bond for Mr. Manafort and a $5 million bond for Mr. Gates, which they will be required to pay if they violate the court’s orders.

Mr. Manafort faces 12 to 15 years in prison under sentencing guidelines and Mr. Gates could get 10 to 12 years if convicted, said Mr. Andres, who was joined in the courtroom by special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.

Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates have relinquished their passports to federal authorities.

The indictment against them alleges that their work on behalf of pro-Russian interests and their failure to properly report that work ran through 2014.

But the indictment says money laundering and misleading investigators continued through 2016 and 2017 — during and after the time Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, from March to August 2016.

More than $75 million was transferred through the accounts, according to the indictment, with Mr. Manafort responsible for the laundering of $18 million and Mr. Gates responsible for laundering $3 million.

The indictment said the men solicited two unidentified companies to lobby directly on behalf of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which was created to serve as a mouthpiece for the Ukrainian government and Mr. Yanukovych.

The companies are not named in the indictment, but the companies Podesta Group and Mercury retroactively filed as foreign agents that disclosed their representation of the European Centre.

Tony Podesta announced that he would be stepping down from his lobbying firm after he was named in the special counsel’s investigation concerning Russian involvement in the election, Politico reported Monday.

Michael McKeon, a partner at Mercury, said the company “has and will continue to fully cooperate with the office of the special counsel in its investigation.”

After the court hearing concluded, Mr. Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing spoke to reporters and called the indictment against his client “ridiculous.”

Mr. Downing said Mr. Manafort’s activities in Ukraine were to “further democracy” and “help Ukraine come closer to United States and the EU,” referring to the European Union.

“Those activities ended in 2014, over two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump campaign,” Mr. Downing said.

The attorney also questioned the grounds for the indictment. He said it was based on the Foreign Agents Registration Act filing that requires all people representing foreign powers to disclose that relationship and information about the relationship, including finances, to the U.S. government.

“The United States government has only used that offense six times. Since 1966, it only resulted in one conviction,” he said.

Mr. Gates, who was represented in court by a federal public defender because he didn’t have his own attorney, declined to comment. He is a longtime partner of Mr. Manafort and played a role in Mr. Manafort’s dealings in Eastern Europe.

Glenn Selig, a spokesman for Mr. Gates, issued a statement calling the charges politically motivated and saying he “welcomes the opportunity to confront these charges in court.”

Mr. Papadopoulos, meanwhile, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to FBI agents in January as they questioned him about his attempts to arrange meetings between members of the campaign and the Russian government.

According to court documents, he was in contact with three people who had connections to Russian government officials, including a professor who claimed to have “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Mr. Papadopoulos originally told the FBI agents that he had learned this information before he became a part of Mr. Trump’s campaign, but prosecutors said his meetings with the professor and exchanges to set up meetings between campaign and Russian officials occurred after he became a campaign adviser in March 2016.

Mr. Papadopoulos kept the Trump campaign apprised of his moves, repeatedly writing campaign supervisors and an unidentified “high-ranking campaign official” about possible meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.

At one point, one of the campaign officials forwarded one of Mr. Papadopoulos‘ emails to another campaign member and indicated they were not interested in sending Mr. Trump to meetings in Russia.

“We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal,” the campaign official wrote.

None of the documents identified any Trump campaign officials.

Court documents said Mr. Papadopoulos was fully cooperating with the special counsel.

“Since his arrest, defendant has made efforts to cooperate with special counsel’s investigation by participating in multiple proffer sessions and voluntarily turning over materials at the request of investigators,” his attorneys said in a document filed under seal in early October and made public Monday.

Ronald T. Hosko, a 30-year veteran of the FBI who is now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said he had been predicting a yearslong investigation, and the fact that the charges came together so quickly is a testament to Mr. Mueller’s team and perhaps to “the lack of discretion” on the part of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates.

Mr. Hosko also said the guilty plea wrangled from Mr. Papadopoulos is a message to others.

“That’s Mueller saying, ‘Everybody, pay attention. When we come knocking on your door, tell us the truth, or else,’” Mr. Hosko said.

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