Trump-Russia collusion probe intensifies as three are charged

The federal investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia took a major turn Monday when authorities revealed that three peoplea former campaign chief, his business associate and an ex-policy adviser—were charged with crimes ranging from money laundering and tax evasion to lying to the FBI.

Paul Manafort, the campaign manager, and onetime business partner Rick Gates were charged with money laundering and tax evasion. Separately, George Papadopoulos, the foreign policy adviser, secretly pleaded guilty weeks ago and has been cooperating with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Those accusations in Washington federal court, arriving after a months-long probe, indicate that Mueller’s effort is intensifying. 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. The charges against Papadopoulos allege that he was working regularly to foster ties between the campaign and the Kremlin—and to acquire Hillary Clinton’s emails.

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.

Papadopoulos suggested during the campaign that Trump meet with top Russian leaders, according to court papers. Papadopoulos, who worked for the campaign from March 2016 to January, made contacts with Russians who said they could supply “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of her emails. Papadopoulos then told Trump officials to arrange a meeting with Russians to discuss “U.S.-Russia ties,” according to the papers.

Papadopoulos later brought up 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.”

Papadopoulos lied to federal agents about the timing of those 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.

The Manafort indictment said he laundered more than $18 million to support a “lavish lifestyle,” including buying homes, and of defrauding financial institutions that loaned him money. He and Gates, his longtime deputy, hid foreign accounts from the U.S. government, failed to disclose work for a foreign government and misrepresented their activities to authorities as recently as 2017, according to a 12-count indictment.

Calls to representatives for the men weren’t immediately returned.

Trump didn’t respond immediately to the Papadopoulos charges, but took to Twitter to say that any wrongdoing by Manafort predated their relationship. He sought to deflect attention to Clinton.

“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?????”

“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

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 has said he knows nothing of Russian interference. Mueller is also investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump and other crimes by his associates.

About 8 a.m. Monday, Manafort, wearing a suit and tie, drove past a crowd of photographers and cameramen in a black SUV as he left his Alexandria, Virginia, home. Gates lives in Richmond, Virginia. The two are scheduled to appear in court later in the day.

Pardon power

The federal charges raised the prospect of a presidential pardon. Trump has said that the president has “complete power” to excuse charges and crimes. But doing so could deepen the legal trouble of those in Trump’s circle, because prosecutors could compel pardoned individuals to testify as they lose some Fifth Amendment protections.

Manafort is also under investigation by authorities in New York state, where the president wouldn’t have authority to issue a pardon.

Manafort, 68, has been targeted by Mueller for months for work before he joined Trump. A top Republican strategist who also worked extensively for foreign politicians, he left the presidential campaign after only a few months in 2016. He departed after information surfaced about earlier 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, he remained and later joined the president-elect’s inaugural committee. He was said to be working with Thomas Barrack, a wealthy Los Angeles investor and Trump confidant, and the two often visited the White House together.

Gates worked closely with Trump’s family members to fight off a campaign to get delegates to abandon Trump before the Republican National Convention. He attended several 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 at the White House, two people familiar with the matter said.

Virginia home

Mueller has scrutinized whether Manafort laundered money from Eastern Europe into New York properties, complied with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and paid taxes on money from international clients he advised.

FBI agents picked the lock of his northern Virginia home in July, 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.

As campaign chairman, Manafort attended a June 2016 meeting among the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer that was set up on the pretext of offering incriminating information about Trump’s opponent, Clinton. Manafort disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators, who interviewed participants seeking evidence of collusion.

Manafort, whose father was mayor of New Britain, Connecticut, is a lawyer who 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 with Lee Atwater and Roger Stone. They 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.” Manafort later formed a firm with Rick Davis, who left to run the presidential campaign of John McCain, a senator from Arizona, in 2008.

Foreign leaders

His firms advised foreign leaders, some with unsavory reputations, on how to make themselves more 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.

The work was particularly lucrative in Ukraine, where 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, a pro-Russian candidate, 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 the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and now lives in exile in Russia.A handwritten ledger found in the party’s head office said Manafort was paid at least $12.7 million from 2007 to 2012, prompting the FBI to investigate whether the ledger reflected illegal payments. In June, Manafort retroactively filed a foreign-agent registration document that said the Party of Regions paid him $17.1 million in 2012 and 2013.

The Manafort inquiry initially focused on actions involving a real-estate company he created in 2008 with a $25 million investment from a Ukrainian oligarch, Dmitry Firtash. It was supposed to develop a luxury skyscraper on New York’s Park Avenue, according to court records.

Real purpose

But the project ended in 2009. Tymoshenko, the jailed former Ukrainian prime minister, claimed in a lawsuit that its real purpose was to launder money that Firtash obtained by skimming from natural-gas sales to Ukraine. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2015.

The idea of working in Ukraine came to Manafort in 2004 from Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who controls aluminum producer Rusal. Manafort worked on behalf of Deripaska’s businesses to gain access to markets in the European Union and elsewhere, according to a person familiar with the matter. The consulting arrangement ended by 2007.

In 2008, Deripaska put $18.9 million into a private-equity fund, based in the Cayman Islands, that Manafort created to invest in businesses in Eastern Europe. Money for the transaction moved through a web of companies in tax havens like the Caymans and Cyprus. Deripaska also paid $7.35 million in management fees.

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