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Ex-Trump Campaign Aide Pleads Guilty Over Russia Contacts; Ex-Chair, Aide Charged

The Justice Department unveiled charges against three former Donald Trump aides on Monday in the first major public action by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a top aide, Rick Gates, were charged with "conspiracy against the United States," "conspiracy to launder money" and other offenses on Monday morning. The two were expected in court in Washington by the afternoon.

The Justice Department also announced that a former campaign foreign policy aide, George Papadopoulos, had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. Papadopoulos, according to court documents, had extensive contacts with people he knew were connected to the Russian government, including one who told him Russia had "dirt" on then-candidate Hillary Clinton.

Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the FBI on Monday morning. Papadopoulos' status was unclear.

Manafort appeared at the FBI's Washington field office just after 8 a.m. with his lawyer. He was escorted into the building by an FBI agent.

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment to NPR.

President Trump said on Twitter that the charges against Manafort and Gates stemmed from actions that took place before they joined the Trump campaign. The White House has not made any comment about Papadopoulos' case.

The Justice Department indictment on Manafort and Gates contains 12 counts: "conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts."

The Manafort and Gates indictment unsealed on Monday morning does not make any reference to Russia's influence campaign against the presidential election, but it does allege extensive financial ties between Manafort and Gates and powerful Ukrainians.

The Papadopoulos materials, on the other hand, detail the many contacts investigators say he had with Russian-linked operatives. He met at least two people, a man and a woman, who the FBI says were working for the Russian government and had boasted to him about the help it could offer the Trump campaign against Clinton.

Papadopoulos tried to set up additional meetings or contacts between people in the Trump campaign and Russians, possibly enticed by "interesting messages coming in from Moscow" and the promise of "thousands of emails" about Clinton.

The Ukraine connection

Manafort headed Trump's campaign from June to August of 2016. He stepped down after reports emerged about his business relationship with pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine, allegedly replete with millions of dollars in cash payments and undisclosed lobbying efforts.

The indictment released on Monday charges Manafort and Gates with the extensive use of offshore bank accounts, through which flowed more than $75 million. The document alleges that Manafort laundered more than $18 million of that to conceal it from U.S. authorities and Gates transferred more than $3 million.

Manafort grew wealthy over a colorful career in his four decades as a Republican operative and lobbyist.

He worked for Republican campaigns in the late 1970s and early 1980s before moving into the lucrative world of international lobbying, where he teamed up with Roger Stone to found the firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly.

Manafort represented a host of unsavory characters over the years, including Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos and Zaire's leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

In the early 2000s, Manafort headed to Ukraine to work as an adviser to the pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych, helping him win the presidency in 2010. Yanukovych was overthrown by a wave of popular protests four years later. He fled to Russia.

Manafort later became an early backer of Trump, eventually assuming the role of chairman of his insurgent presidential campaign. Trump and the White House have lately downplayed the role that Manafort played in the 2016 operation. But at the time, their relationship was said to be close.

Manafort is "the one person in the room that calls him 'Donald,' " as Republican operative Scott Reed told NPR last year. "It's not 'Mr. Trump.' It's 'Donald.' 'Come on, Donald; we've got to do the right thing here."

A spokesman for Manafort did not respond to a request for comment.

[Source: By Ryan Lucas, NPR, Washington, 30Oct17]

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