WASHINGTON DC, USA (5th UPDATE) – Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was charged Monday, October 30, with conspiracy against the United States and money laundering, in the first indictments stemming from a sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe, also announced that a third person had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators probing the campaign's possible links to Russian interference.
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.
George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the campaign early last year, pleaded guilty on October 5 to making false statements, admitting he sought to hide contacts with a Moscow-linked professor offering "dirt" on Donald Trump's election rival Hillary Clinton.
"Papadopoulos impeded the FBI's ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election," the indictment states.
Trump soon took to Twitter to dismiss the explosive indictments, once again insisting there was no collusion with Russia and calling on political rival Hillary Clinton to be investigated.
"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?????" Trump tweeted. "....Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"
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 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.
On Sunday, Trump had called the investigation a "witch hunt."
With the Mueller investigation entering this 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.
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.
Manafort's indictment made no mention of Russian involvement in the US campaign, however, focusing instead on Manafort's earlier Ukrainian ties.
A long-time political operative and consultant, he 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. – Rappler.com