Washington: Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, surrendered to the FBI on Monday and another ex-aide pleaded guilty to lying to agents in the most serious steps yet of a federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Russia investigations by Robert Mueller and several congressional panels have cast a shadow over the Republican President’s first nine months in office and have widened the rift between Republicans and Democrats. Mr Manafort ran the Trump campaign from June to August of 2016 before resigning amid reports he might have received millions in illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.
Lawyers for Rick Gates and Mr Manafort did not immediately return calls for comment. An initial court appearance and arraignment for the two men was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. local time on Monday in Washington before magistrate judge Deborah Robinson, a court spokeswoman said.
Mr Trump, who has denied any allegations of collusion with the Russians, reiterated on Monday his public frustration with the Mueller probe, which he has called “a witch hunt.”
“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????? (sic),” Mr Trump said in a Twitter post on Monday morning, referring to his Democratic presidential rival last year, Hillary Clinton.
Legal experts said the indictment could just be an opening salvo by Mr Mueller. It put pressure on Mr Manafort to cooperate with Mr Mueller’s Russia investigation, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. “If I were the defense lawyer I’d be looking into cooperating,” he said.
Mr Manafort and Mr Gates face decades in federal prison and millions of dollars in potential fines if convicted on all counts. While the former potentially faces up to 80 years in prison, Mr Gates, faces up to 70 years. Prosecutors could still file additional charges against the pair. If convicted at trial, the law gives federal judges wide latitude in imposing prison sentences and fines.
US intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the election to try to help Mr Trump defeat Ms Clinton, by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her. The Kremlin has denied any meddling. The indictment contains counts of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine’s government, false and misleading statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, the special counsel said.
In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts. Mr Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million, according to the indictment. Democratic senate leader Chuck Schumer called for the Trump administration to avoid interfering with Mr Mueller’s probe. “The rule of law is paramount in America and the investigation must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. The President must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way,” Schumer said. Mr Trump reiterated his denial of any collusion in a Twitter post on Monday.
- He joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was soon named its chairman and chief strategist.
- He was fired after reports that said he received more than $12 million in undisclosed payments from Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
- He is accused of laundering more than $18 million to buy properties and services.
- The former Trump aide’s name is on documents linked to companies that Mr Manafort set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe.
- He is accused of transferring over $3 million from offshore accounts.
- The two are also charged with making false statements.