WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was charged Monday with conspiracy against the United States and money laundering, in the first indictment stemming from a sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Manafort, 68, and business partner Rick Gates, 45, were charged with allegedly hiding millions of dollars they earned working for former Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow political party.
Special counsel Robert Mueller announced the charges against the two, the first against any close former Trump aides arising from a federal probe into possible collusion in Russia’s effort to tilt the US presidential election in Trump’s favor.
“Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work,” the indictment states.
“In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 to at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts,” it added.
In all, Manafort and Gates were hit with 12 charges of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, failing to register as a foreign agent, making false statements and failure to report offshore bank accounts.
Manafort and an unidentified man were caught by television cameras walking into the FBI’s Washington field office around 8:15 am (1215 GMT) to surrender.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter as speculation mounted charges were about to drop, calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and repeating denials that his White House campaign colluded with Russia.
Focus on Ukraine
Manafort was among the participants of a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked lawyer that raised suspicions of collusion between the campaign and Moscow.
The meeting was arranged by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, in hopes of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate.
The indictment made no mention of Russian involvement in the US campaign, however, focusing instead on Manafort’s earlier Ukraianian ties.
A long-time political operative and consultant, Manafort was recruited in March 2016 to round up pro-Trump delegates to the Republican Party convention.
Then in June Trump named him campaign chairman, replacing fired Corey Lewandowski.
But in August he resigned as Ukraine corruption investigators released files showing large payments to Manafort companies and it became clear he was under investigation in the United States in relation to that.
Federal law enforcement officials were reportedly aware of wire transfers linked to Manafort as far back as 2012, when they began investigating whether he committed tax fraud or helped the Ukrainian regime — at the time close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin — launder money.
Attacks on Democrats
With the Mueller investigation entering a dramatic new phase, Republican officials and conservative media have stepped up attacks on Democrats — especially Clinton — though opponents are dismissing the accusations as blatant attempts to divert attention.
In his tweets Sunday, Trump again complained of Clinton’s handling of emails while secretary of state, of Democratic Party funding of what he said was a “fake” dossier on Trump’s background, and of a US sale during the Obama administration of uranium rights to Russia.
“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!” Trump tweeted.