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Trump campaign adviser pleads guilty to misleading investigators about Russia contacts; Manafort indicted on conspiracy

October 30, 2017 - 8:18 pm

(WASHINGTON) -- George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to FBI agents about his correspondence with Russian nationals and attempts to arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials.

News of the plea came Monday morning, shortly after Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort's longtime business associate Rick Gates were indicted on charges including conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and working as unregistered foreign agents.

New details emerge

Papadopoulos admitted to making false statements and making material omissions to investigators in January probing interference in the 2016 presidential election in relation to his contacts with a London-based professor with ties to the Russian government.

As outlined in the statement of Papadopoulos' offense, the foreign policy adviser met with the individual who put him in contact with a woman whom he believed to a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He later told Trump that he might be able to arrange for him to meet with Putin. One of Papadopoulos' contacts told him in April 2016 that the Russians "have dirt on" Hillary Clinton, after which he told campaign associates he had "interesting messages coming in from Moscow."

In an FBI affidavit dated in July -- when Papadopoulos was arrested -- an agent noted that Papadopoulos' contact tied to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the adviser an email saying he had "just talked to my colleagues from the MFA.[They are] open for cooperating." Papadopoulos responded and said he was "glad the MFA is interested" and forwarded the email to three senior Trump campaign officials.

After he was interviewed, Papadopoulos deactivated a Facebook account which contained information about his communications with the Russian contacts and stopped using his then-current cell phone number. Since his arrest, he has "met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions" since then, according to the plea documentation.

In a statement Monday, attorneys for Papadopoulos declined to comment on the matter, but said they "look forward to telling all of the details of George's story" when called upon by the court.

Manafort and Gates indicted, plead not guilty

Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty on all charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's five-month investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

The pair each surrendered to federal authorities in Washington, D.C Monday morning after a grand jury approved the charges brought by Mueller on Friday. The indictment, which includes Gates, contains 12 counts including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

Manafort originally emerged as a key figure in Muller's inquiry because of consulting work he did in 2014 on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

In July -- the same month in which he retroactively registered as a foreign agent because of his lobbying work -- the FBI executed a search warrant at Manafort’s Virginia home, stemming from the Russia investigation. A source familiar with the matter described armed FBI agents’ waking Manafort early in the morning as they knocked on his bedroom door.

Manafort, 68, joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as the campaign’s convention manager and was promoted to campaign chairman two months later. He was fired from the campaign by then candidate Trump in August 2016 amid questions about his foreign business ties.

Kevin Downing, Manafort's attorney, said Monday afternoon that there was no evidence of collusion between his client and Russia, and downplayed the special prosecutor's pursuit of Manafort for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He further labelled the indictment "ridiculous" for claiming that offshore accounts are used as part of a "scheme" to conceal funds from the government.

Gates, 45, joined Manafort’s international firm, Davis Manafort Partners, between 2006 and 2007. Gates’ connections to Trump before and after the election include his leading operations on the ground at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, serving as a top deputy to inauguration chairman Tom Barrack on the 2017 Presidential Inauguration Committee. Gates later joined the nonprofit America First Policies created after the election, a 501(c)4 committee which the president has endorsed.

In a statement Monday afternoon, a spokesperson said that Gates "welcomes the opportunity to confront these charges in court" but would not be providing additional comment until he and his legal team review the indictment.

"The fight is just beginning," concluded the statement.

Mueller was appointed special counsel in May by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein; Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in March from all matters related to last year's presidential election.

In addition to the action taken by Mueller's team, Manafort has been heavily scrutinized by the multiple congressional committees conducting their own investigations into Russian meddling. In August, sources close to Manafort told ABC News that the former campaign chairman provided the committees with about 400 documents, including paperwork related to Ukraine.

Trump, White House respond

Trump responded to the news about Manafort via Twitter Monday, writing: "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?????"

"....Also, there is NO COLLUSION!" he added in a subsequent tweet.

At Monday's White House press briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the announcements had "nothing to do with the president and nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity," repeating the stance on more than one occasion.

Pressed on Papadopoulos' actions, Sanders said that he served in an "extremely limited" "volunteer position," and that the cited activities were not done in an "official capacity on behalf of the campaign." She added that the White House continues to expect Mueller's investigation to "conclude soon."

Trump seemed to react over the weekend to a CNN report Friday of a potential charge, tweeting, as he has previously, that the investigation was a “witch hunt” promoted by Democrats. He further seemed to suggest that it was a distraction from items on his administration’s agenda, such as tax reform.

White House attorney Ty Cobb later dismissed any connection.

“Contrary to what many have suggested, the president’s comments today are unrelated to the activities of the Special Counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate,” Cobb said in a statement over the weekend to the White House press pool.

On Monday, Cobb said that the indictments do not affect the White House dealings with Mueller and that they continue to fully cooperate with him.

Read the full text of the indictment here.

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