Special counsel has been granted authority to prosecute any crimes in probe of 2016 U.S. election meddling
Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager to U.S. President Donald Trump, and a business associate have each been indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 counts related to possible Russian interference in last year’s election campaign.
The charges are the first from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which is also examining possible collusion between members of Trump’s campaign and transition teams and foreign governments. Mueller has been given the authority to prosecute any alleged crimes that result from the course of the investigation.
“The indictment 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 counsel said in a statement, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
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The indictment also includes Rick Gates, 45, who served as his deputy in the Trump campaign. Manafort and Gates are accused of generating tens of millions of dollars of income from work for Ukrainian political parties and leaders, and laundering money through U.S. and foreign entities to hide payments between 2006 and at least 2016.
The two concealed their work and revenue as agents of Ukrainian political parties, it is alleged.
Among other things, Mueller has been investigating Manafort’s financial and real estate dealings and his prior work for that political group, the Party of Regions, which backed former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich, sources have told Reuters. In July, FBI agents raided Manafort’s Virginia home.
Manafort and Gates will be taken to the federal district courthouse, a FBI spokesman told Reuters.
Lawyers for Gates and Manafort did not immediately return calls for comment.
Manafort, 68, served the Trump campaign from June to August of 2016 before resigning amid reports that he might have received millions in illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.
The White House has not commented on the indictments.
Investigations into Russian links with the Trump campaign, including Mueller’s and probes by several congressional panels, have dogged Trump’s presidency since the Republican took office in January and widened the partisan rift between Republicans and Democrats.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the election to try to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her.
Mueller is also investigating whether Trump campaign officials colluded with those Russian efforts.
Trump has denied the allegations of collusion with the Russians and called the probe “a witch hunt.” The Kremlin also has denied the allegations.
Trump has also sought to shift attention to a uranium deal with a Russian firm that took place during Clinton’s time as secretary of state.
Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been looking into possible links between Trump aides and foreign governments, as well as potential money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes, according to sources familiar with the probe.
He also is exploring whether Trump or his aides have tried to obstruct the investigation.
Mueller was appointed to lead the investigation a week after Trump’s May 9 firing of FBI director James Comey, who was heading a federal probe into possible collusion with Russia.
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Trump initially said he fired Comey because his leadership of the FBI was inadequate. In a later interview with NBC, he cited “this Russia thing” as his reason.
On Sunday, Trump tried to shift the focus back to Democrats and Clinton, tweeting that the Russia issue was being used to sidetrack the Republican push for tax reform and praising Republican “anger and unity” on the need to look into whether Democrats and the Clinton campaign paid for a portion of a dossier that detailed accusations about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Conservative allies go on Mueller attack
Special White House counsel Ty Cobb said the president’s tweets were “unrelated to the activities of the special counsel, with whom he continues to co-operate.
Investigators led by Mueller have interviewed former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former spokesperson Sean Spicer, and other current and former White House and campaign officials.
Mueller also has investigated Michael Flynn, an adviser to Trump’s campaign and later his national security adviser.
Flynn was fired from that post in February after misleading Vice-President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak last year.
That possibility of arrests and indictments spurred some of Trump’s conservative allies to call for Mueller’s firing in recent days.
Sebastian Gorka, an outspoken former adviser who left the White House in August, said on Twitter that Mueller “should be stripped of his authority” and investigated if he executed warrants in the probe.
The White House said in the summer that Trump had no intention of firing Mueller even though he questioned his impartiality.
Sources :cbc news/ca