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Oct. 30 2017 4:43 PM

White House: Campaign Adviser’s Effort to Set Up Campaign-Approved Meeting Wasn’t “Campaign Activity”

As you might imagine, the White House is attempting to distance itself from the Monday revelation that a former Trump campaign chairman (Paul Manafort) has been indicted for money laundering while a former Trump campaign adviser (George Papadopoulos) has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about contacts with purported representatives of the Russian government. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders clearly wanted to establish a theme at Monday’s press conference when discussing the cases:

  • “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president and nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity.”
  • “[Papadopoulos’ plea] has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign, it has to do with his failure to tell the truth. That doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign.” (Papadopoulos' attempt to set up a meeting between campaign officials and Russian individuals "was denied," Huckabee Sanders said. "He reached out and nothing happened beyond that.")
  • “Again, there are no activities or official capacity in which the Trump campaign was engaged in any of these activities.”

When it comes to Manafort, at least, this is technically true: He’s only charged, at the moment, with crimes related to work in Eastern Europe that began before he joined Trump’s operation. But it's a pretty big stretch when it comes to Papadopoulos, who advised the campaign on foreign policy. The special counsel court filing about Papadopoulos’ case makes clear that high-level Trump campaign figures were aware of his attempts to set up a Trump–Russia meeting; it also documents two occasions on which a “campaign supervisor”—who the Washington Post suggests may have been Trumpworld figure Sam Clovis—explicitly signed off on Papadopoulos' work. Here’s one:

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Screen shot/DOJ

Great work indeed! Here’s the other:

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Screen shot/DOJ

When a reporter asked Sanders how her denial of official involvement squared with the reality of a “campaign supervisor” having instructed Papadopoulos to “make the trip,” she simply said she didn’t know that had happened:

I’m not aware of that conversation so I can’t speak to that.

Indeed, why should one be expected to learn the facts about a given situation before making an official statement about it on behalf of the president of the United States?

For what it’s worth, the special counsel’s filing says Papadopoulos did not end up making a trip to Russia. But it doesn't appear, as Huckabee Sanders would have you belive, that his efforts failed for a lack of official campaign support.

Oct. 30 2017 4:29 PM

How Members of Congress Are Reacting to Manafort’s Indictment

Members of Congress slowly began to comment on the indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Monday, as the White House tried to distance itself from the news.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan largely avoided saying anything about the news, at first saying he didn’t want to speculate on something he hadn’t read and then said he had “nothing to add, other than nothing’s going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in response to Monday's news that he believed the election had nothing to do with Russian interference. "I think Russia meddles in everyone's election," he told CNBC. "I don't believe Russia did anything to influence whether Trump got elected or not from the basis that the American people decided."

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reacted by praising the DOJ for enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires agents of foreign governments register with the United States, according to the Associated Press. Grassley had previously complained the law was not enforced well enough, according to the AP, and he said “it should be enforced fairly and consistently, regardless of politics or any other factor.”

One of the first responses from a member of the GOP came from Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who declared support for the Mueller investigation.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois also tweeted a comment supporting Mueller's investigation.

On the Democrat side, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Trump against interfering with the special counsel’s work.

If Trump did interfere with the investigation, "Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said there was still a need for an “outside, fully independent investigation.”

And Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, called the indictment a “major step toward answers and accountability.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stressed during a press conference that Manafort’s alleged illegal activities had nothing to do with the campaign and said that George Papadopoulos—a Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his 2016 contact with people purporting to represent the Russian government—was a campaign volunteer.

The president tweeted Monday, “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?????”

He continued, “....Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

Update, Oct. 30, 2017, at 6:10 p.m.: This post has been updated with new reactions.

Oct. 30 2017 3:12 PM

Manafort and Gates Plead Not Guilty, Placed Under House Arrest

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of conspiracy against the United States and money laundering in connection with Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election. Manafort's bail was set at $10 million, or roughly 10 times his spending on antique rugs. Gates' bail was set at $5 million. Both men were placed under house arrest.

Manafort and Gates, "together with others," from around 2006 to 2017, "conspired to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions" of the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, the indictment alleges. Manafort and Gates were also charged with conspiring to launder money, failing to report financial interests in a foreign country, lying in documents in which agents of other governments are meant to disclose their relationship with those other countries, and lying in statements to the DOJ.

Manafort has been a figure of interest in the conversation around the special counsel investigation since its inception. Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August 2016 after a series of reports about his ties to pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. In March, it was reported that Manafort had drafted a plan in 2005 to influence American politics for a Russian billionaire aligned with Putin. In July, the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid on his home. In September, documents turned over to the investigation showed that Manafort offered to provide updates on the campaign to a Russian billionaire. Around the same time, reports also revealed Manafort had been under intermittent FBI surveillance for the past couple years.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Manafort was also under investigation for possible money laundering. CNN first reported Friday that a grand jury had approved the first charges in Mueller's investigation and that those charged were expected to be taken into custody on Monday.

According to the Times, Rick Gates is a “longtime protégé and junior partner” of Manafort’s who is “linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe.”

Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election can also include “any matters that arose or may directly arise from the investigation,” which has been reported to include an investigation of Trump for possible obstruction of justice. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who formerly led the investigation, first blaming his handling of the Clinton email investigation and later acknowledging it had to do with the Russia investigation.

Update, Oct. 30, 2017, at 9:20 a.m.: This post has been updated with new information about the criminal charges.

Update, Oct. 30., 2017, at 2:20 p.m.: This post has been updated with news of Manfort's and Gates' pleas.

Update, Oct. 30, 2017, at 3:05 p.m.: This post has been updated with information about their house arrest and bail.

Oct. 30 2017 3:02 PM

Every Time Fox & Friends Mentioned Hillary Clinton This Morning

On Monday morning’s Fox & Friends, as news broke of the indictment of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and his business partner, the show’s various hosts and guests managed to mention Hillary Clinton's name 32 times. 32! Watch their rather impressive work in the supercut above, and never forget the real story here.

Oct. 30 2017 1:33 PM

Trump Campaign Adviser Pleads Guilty to Lying About Some Very Interesting Contact With Russia

The headline news of the morning seemed to be that special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for a number of crimes related to his pre-campaign work for a Russia-aligned political party in Ukraine. But it's starting to look like a guilty plea that the Department of Justice announced with little fanfare on its website may be even more consequential going forward. Specifically, the DOJ posted some very intriguing information related to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to making a number of false statements to the FBI about his 2016 contact with individuals purporting to represent the government of Russia.

Here's the official summary Papadopoulos' plea, which took place on Oct. 5 and was kept under seal until Monday:

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Screenshot/DOJ

Another court document lays out who these "foreign nationals" were. One was an unnamed professor who "claimed to have substantial connections to Russian government officials" and who Papadopoulos met coincidentally (or "coincidentally"?) while traveling in Europe in March 2016 after he'd agreed to advise the Trump campaign. Another was a "female Russian national," purportedly related to Vladimir Putin, who the professor introduced him to. A third was a Moscow-based individual who purported to have connections within Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The DOJ says Papadopoulos corresponded with these individuals for several months about the possibility of setting up a meeting between Trump campaign staffers—or Trump himself—and Russian officials.

Meanwhile, Papadopoulos also repeatedly told "high-ranking" Trump campaign officials about his Russia contacts in an effort to make the meeting happen:

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Screenshot/DOJ

The formal Trump campaign–Russia meeting that Papadopoulos was attempting to broker never took place. Based on earlier Washington Post reporting, though, we know that one of the "high-level officials" Papadopoulos was in touch with was Paul Manafort. And the DOJ also says that Papadopoulus was told in person by one of his contacts in April 2016 that Russia possessed "thousands of emails" involving "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

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Screenshot/DOJ

Signs of Russia-directed incursion into the Democratic National Committee's email system were detected as early as September 2015, and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was hacked in March 2016.* But the first DNC emails weren't released publicly by WikiLeaks until July.

Crucially, the DOJ document does not say whether Papadopoulos told Manafort or any other Trump campaign officials about this "dirt." But it does say he lied to the FBI and deleted his Facebook account in an attempt to cover up the extent of his communications—and that after being arrested and, presumably, informed that he was in way over his head unless he struck a cooperation plea deal, he met with investigators on "numerous occasions" to "provide information."

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Screenshot/DOJ

So, what we have here is evidence that a Trump campaign adviser was told by Russian contacts that the Russian government possessed incriminating emails related to Hillary Clinton. We also know that Papadopoulos made top Trump campaign officials, including Paul Manafort, repeatedly aware that he was in touch with these purported representatives of the Russian government. And we know that Papadopoulos was cooperating with investigators for months—cooperation that was kept secret until the same day that Manafort was taken into custody.

Stay tuned!

*Correction, Nov. 2: This post originally misstated the month in which Russian incursion into the DNC's email system was detected.

Oct. 30 2017 1:24 PM

All the Lavish Things Paul Manafort Allegedly Bought With Laundered Money

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Richard Gates were charged Monday with engaging in money laundering, in part to hide payments from Ukraine. “In furtherance of the scheme,” the indictment accuses the two of using offshore accounts to pay a list of vendors in what it alleges are illegal wire transfers, which allowed them to avoid U.S. reporting and taxation rules.

“In order to use the money in the offshore nominee accounts of the Manafort–Gates entities without paying taxes on it, Manafort and Gates caused millions of dollars in wire transfers from these accounts to be made for goods, services, and real estate,” according to the indictment.

As a result of the more than $75 million that allegedly went through hidden offshore accounts, Manafort “used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment claims. It alleges Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy personal property, goods, and services.

But how did he allegedly spend the money? Below is a list of what the indictment claims Manafort and Gates bought between 2008 and 2014 with illicit funds.

1. Antique rugs: Two offshore accounts wired multiple thousand-dollar payments to an antique rug store in Alexandria, Virginia, where Manafort lives, as well as a second vendor “related to” the antique rug store, for a total of $1,034,350.

2. Other antiques: Offshore accounts wired a total of $623,910 to New York.

3. Suits: A men’s clothing store in New York received $849,215, and $520,440 was transferred to a clothing store in Beverly Hills, California, adding up to a total of $1,369,655 in clothing purchases.

4. Cars: The accounts transferred the money to buy a Mercedes Benz and a Range Rover for $62,750 and $47,000, respectively. Also included: $163,705 for payments “relating to three Range Rovers.”

5. Paintings: Two accounts transferred a total of $31,900 to an art gallery in Florida.

6. Housekeeping: $20,000 dollars spent on housekeeping in New York.

7. Landscaping: Payments of $820,240 for two landscapers in the Hamptons in New York.

8. Home improvement: For a home improvement company and an “audio, video and control system home integration and installation company” in the Hamptons, the accounts transferred $5,547,618. For home automation in Florida, $1,319,281. Total: $6,866,899

9. Investment: $500,000 to an investment company.

10. Contractors: for unknown contracting companies in Virginia and Florida, a total of $558,137.

11. Property management: a South Carolina company this time, for $46,000.

But that’s not all. The offshore accounts were also allegedly used to buy two New York City properties—a $3 million Brooklyn brownstone and a $2.9 million SoHo loft—as well as a house in Arlington, Virginia.

Manafort allegedly rented out the SoHo loft for thousands of dollars per week on Airbnb while telling the bank the property was actually a second home for his daughter.

For the Brooklyn brownstone, which he paid for in cash, Manafort took out a loan he allegedly promised would be just for construction costs but was actually used to make a down payment on another property and to pay off the mortgage of a third property.

As for Gates, the indictment notes that “like Manafort, Gates used money from the offshore accounts to pay for his personal expenses including his mortgage, children’s tuition and interior decorating of his Virginia residence.”

Oct. 30 2017 1:00 PM

Who Is Rick Gates?

For more than a decade, Rick Gates served as a loyal deputy to Paul Manafort, trailing his boss’s lucrative lobbying career from the United States to Ukraine and back. When Manafort joined the Donald Trump campaign as a top aide last year, Gates served as his trusted lieutenant.

That loyalty is likely to be tested now, after federal prosecutors unsealed a 12-count indictment against Gates and Manafort on Monday morning. The charges allege the two men conspired to hide tens of milliions of dollars in payments from Viktor Yanukovych, the autocratic former president of Ukraine, by laundering the money through foreign accounts.

Gates never attained the public profile of his boss, who became something of a lobbying legend after he founded the firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly in the 1980s. (Until this morning, Gates did not even merit a Wikipedia page.) But, as the indictment makes clear, Gates was intimately intertwined with Manafort’s recent work, serving as a key behind-the-scenes player in the alleged money laundering and as an important cog in Trump’s campaign.

Gates joined Black, Manafort around the time Manafort left in the mid-1990s, but the two were eventually connected by Rick Davis, another up-and-coming lobbyist, who had founded a new firm with Manafort, which Gates joined in 2006. According to the indictment, the criminal activity began almost immediately. The firm agreed to work for Yanukovych beginning in 2006 while concealing the nature of that work as they routed millions of dollars through foreign accounts to evade reporting requirements and the IRS. When Davis left the firm in 2008 to manage John McCain’s campaign, Gates took over some of his foreign duties, according to the New York Times. That reportedly included putting his name on some of the paperwork used to route money through shell companies in Cyprus.

“Everything was done legally and with the approval of our lawyers,” Gates told the Times last year. “Nothing to my knowledge was ever done inappropriately.”

While Manafort dealt directly with Yanukovych, it was Gates who communicated instructions to the companies that were quietly lobbying for the Ukrainian president’s interests in the U.S., according to prosecutors. After Manafort and Gates joined Trump’s floundering campaign in May of 2016, their Ukrainian work became a hot topic for reporters. Gates sent “false talking points” to the lobbying firms, spelling out how they should respond to incoming inquiries. In response to those talking points, an unnamed representative for one of those companies replied to Gates: “There's a lot of email traffic that has you much more involved than this suggest[s],” according to the indictment. Gates also performed the more mundane tasks required to keep Manafort’s finances afloat. When the boss needed to misrepresent the nature of a rental property, Gates drew up some paperwork claiming it was a second home of Manafort’s daughter and son-in-law, according to the indictment.

It's not clear how much Gates personally profited from his work with Manafort. The indictment alleges the two generated “tens of millions of dollars” by consulting for Ukraine, and it includes a list of more than $12 million in personal expenses for Manafort, along with assets that include four homes. But there are no corresponding lists for Gates.

Whether that makes him more likely to cooperate with prosecutors remains to be seen. But if special counsel Robert Mueller’s strategy is to roll cooperating witnesses up the chain of command, then Gates could be an even better target than Manafort. Gates was privy to all of the Trump campaign’s inner workings—he reportedly helped deflect when a Russian liaison expressed interest in scheduling a meeting with Trump in Moscow—and he stayed in Trump’s orbit even after Manafort was exiled for his Russian ties. Gates served as a liaison to the Republican National Committee and later as an official on the presidential transition team. He was a principal organizer of a pro-Trump super PAC until his Manafort ties caught up to him and he was ousted from the group in March.

Gates is scheduled to be arraigned, alongside Manafort, on Monday afternoon.

Oct. 30 2017 11:50 AM

“Conspiracy Against the United States” Is Bad, but Not As Bad As It Sounds

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has been indicted on 12 counts involving money laundering and tax evasion. Manafort longtime business partner Rick Gates was also charged in the indictment, which was approved by a grand jury impaneled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Included among the charges is “Conspiracy Against The United States,” a dramatic and headline-grabbing accusation. Is that as serious as it sounds?

It’s certainly not good—but it also isn’t treason. The statute in question, 18 U.S.C. § 371, refers to two or more people who “conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof,” and actually act in furtherance of their conspiracy. The indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates “conspired to defraud the United States” by obstructing the work of the Justice and Treasury Departments. It adds that both men conspired “to commit offenses against the United States,” and acted on their conspiracy.

The indictment then specifies precisely what these conspiracies and actions were. First, Manafort’s tax evasion—his habit, exhaustively detailed in the indictment, of hiding money overseas. Second, Manafort and Gates’ failure to register as “agents of a foreign principal” for their work with Ukraine and its former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Third, Manafort and Gates’ repeated lies to the U.S. government regarding their work for Yanukovych.

Oct. 30 2017 11:24 AM

The Painstaking Detail of the Manafort-Gates Indictment Shows What a Solid Job Robert Mueller Has Done

On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates with a laundry list of crimes related to secret work done on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. That list includes failing to register as lobbying agents of a foreign government, laundering millions of dollars in payments from those lobbying efforts through unreported offshore accounts, using that money in a property loan scheme to defraud banks, and lying to federal investigators in attempt to cover the scheme up.

Oct. 30 2017 11:08 AM

Mueller Charged Manafort With Crimes Predating the Trump Campaign. Is He Allowed to Do That? (Yes.)

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on several charges related to consulting work he did in Ukraine as early as 2006. Not surprisingly, the official Trump response to this is to act confused about why Mueller would be investigating something that happened before 2016:

You can click here to read about the component of the president’s tweet that involves an old Russia-related Hillary Clinton nonscandal that right-wingers are attempting to revive to deflect attention from Mueller’s work. As for the first part, here’s the key section of the letter that Trump-appointed deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein—who’s handling Russia-related matters for the Department of Justice because attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself—wrote to Mueller to appoint him as special counsel:

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Screen shot/DocumentCloud

Researching Trump campaign figures’ financial ties to Russia is obviously a germane part of an investigation into 2016 interference; it thus follows that the discovery of alleged crimes involving money paid to Manafort by a Putin-backed Ukrainiain oligarch could be considered to “arise directly” from such research. And it's a near-total certainty that Rosenstein—who oversees the special counsel investigation—knew about and approved of the decision to pursue charges related to Manafort’s financial history given that it’s been publicly known for months that Mueller was doing so.

In other words, the insinuation that Mueller is in some way behaving in an inappropriate, renegade fashion is ridiculous—but is also a talking point you’re probably going to hear on a near-daily basis for at least the next two years. Fun!

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