The federal government’s case against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and a longtime business associate is, for now, focused solely on their activities before going to work for Donald Trump.
The counts include conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and other ones related to their private business dealings. They are the first individuals charged in the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
But those expecting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a former FBI director, to file initial charges alleging Manafort and right-hand man Rick Gates colluded with the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign will find nothing of the sort in the indictment that was unsealed and released as Manafort was turning himself in at a FBI office in Washington.
Through their business dealings, largely in their consulting work for the Ukraine government, they earned $75 million and laundered around $21 million, with Manafort allegedly moving around $18 million and Gates $3 million. The indictment alleges that the duo actively tried to hide the cash from the U.S. government, then took other illegal steps to obtain more money inside the United States, including defrauding lenders.
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As part of what federal officials refer to as their “scheme,” Manafort and Gates also “concealed from the United States their work as agents of, and millions of dollars in payment from, Ukraine and its political parties and leaders.” They allegedly set up companies and bank accounts in several countries, which they used to hide the foreign-earned cash.
The indictment points to work they did on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was forced from office and now lives in exile in southern Russia; that work included lobbying on Capitol Hill. Though the Justice Department documents do not draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, Yanukovych’s ties to Moscow raises questions about whether Manafort pushed Trump toward Russia as the top campaign official.
By law, such work on behalf of a foreign government requires U.S. citizens to report it to the government. Manafort and Gates did not, and when pressed on the matter last year by federal investigators, they replied with “a series of false and misleading statements,” according to the indictment documents.
Manafort “spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services for himself and his extended family” and used the accounts to buy “multi-million dollar properties in the United States,” the government alleges.
In 2006, Ukraine’s Party of Regions, a pro-Russia party, hired Manafort to “advance its interest,” which including trying to get its candidates elected.
The European Centre for a Modern Ukraine was established in Belgium in 2012 to, among other functions, serve as what federal investigators call “a mouthpiece for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.” That work included lobbying officials in the U.S. and Europe.
The federal indictment document includes a chart several pages long detailing financial transfers by Manafort and Gates in Cyprus and the Grenadines.
From 2006 to 2014, the duo led a lobbying effort in the United States on behalf of their Ukrainian clients. They allegedly broke the law by not disclosing that work as required.
The indictment cites personal correspondence from Manafort to Yanukovych, including promises of regular updates on the public relations campaign.
A potentially damning passage comes on page 17 of the 31-page document, which ends with Mueller’s signature. It states that “to conceal the scheme,” Manafort and Gates concocted a “false and misleading cover story” aimed at putting distance between themselves and their Ukrainian clients.
Last year, Manafort and Gates submitted letters to federal authorities that mirrored that cover story, telling investigators that their work on behalf of the Party of Regions did not include “any meetings or outreach” inside the United States. But email accounts and documents taken from Manafort’s Virginia home indicate otherwise, the government says.
The White House declined to comment officially about the indictments, but one source in Trump’s world noted the charges are unrelated to the president’s 2016 campaign.
Trump broke the administration’s silence later in the morning, tweeting that the charges stem from “years ago,” before he joined Trump’s 2016 campaign. The president then continued his attempts to shift focus to his presidential election foe, writing: “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
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?????
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
The drama played out in Washington on a day when the president has no press availabilities on his daily schedule until around 6 p.m., when journalists are slated to get a chance to shout questions at him on his way to hand out candy at Halloween festivities.