New charges brought against ex-Trump campaign associates

This combination of file pictures shows former Trump campaign official Rick Gates (L) and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who were hit on February 22, 2018, with fresh charges of tax and bank fraud, as special Russia meddling prosecutor Robert Mueller stepped up pressure on the president's former aides. (AFP / Brendan Smialowski)
Updated 23 February 2018
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New charges brought against ex-Trump campaign associates

WASHINGTON: Dramatically escalating the pressure and stakes, special counsel Robert Mueller filed additional criminal charges Thursday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and his business associate.
The filing adds allegations of tax evasion and bank fraud and significantly increases the legal jeopardy facing Paul Manafort, who managed Trump’s campaign for several months in 2016, and longtime associate Rick Gates. Both had already faced the prospect of at least a decade in prison if convicted at trial.
The two men were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October that accused them of a multimillion-dollar money-laundering conspiracy tied to lobbying work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party. Manafort and Gates, who also worked on Trump’s campaign, both pleaded not guilty after that indictment.
The new charges, contained in a 32-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia, allege that Manafort and Gates doctored financial documents, lied to tax preparers and defrauded banks — using money they cycled through offshore accounts to spend lavishly, including on real estate, interior decorating and other luxury goods.
The new criminal case, assigned to US District Judge T.S. Ellis III, comes a week after a separate Mueller indictment charged 13 Russians and three companies in a conspiracy to undermine the 2016 US presidential election through a hidden social media propaganda effort. The charges against Manafort and Gates don’t relate to any allegations of misconduct related to Trump’s campaign, though Mueller is continuing to investigate potential ties to the Kremlin.
The charges against Manafort and Gates arise from their foreign lobbying and efforts that prosecutors say they made to conceal their income by disguising it as loans from offshore companies. More recently, after their Ukrainian work dwindled, the indictment also accuses them of fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million in loans from financial institutions.
The new indictment increases the amount of money Manafort, with the assistance of Gates, is accused of laundering to $30 million. It also charges Manafort and Gates with filing false tax returns from 2010 through 2014 and in most of those years concealing their foreign bank accounts from the IRS.
The indictment contains references to other conspirators who are accused of helping Manafort and Gates in obtaining fraudulent loans. It doesn’t name the conspirators but notes that one of them worked at one of the lenders.
In a document that accompanied the new indictment, prosecutors said they had filed the charges in Virginia, rather than Washington where the other case is pending, because the alleged conduct occurred there and one of the defendants objected to them being brought in Washington. It did not say which defendant objected.
The indictment comes amid ongoing turmoil in the Manafort and Gates defense camps. Manafort has been unable to reach an agreement with prosecutors over the terms of his bail and remains under house arrest, while Gates’ lawyers withdrew from the case after acknowledging “irreconcilable differences” with their client. A new lawyer, Thomas Green, entered an appearance Thursday on Gates’ behalf.
Green confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday evening that he represented Gates but did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new charges.
Mueller was appointed in May to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He took over an ongoing FBI investigation into Manafort’s foreign lobbying work.
After a two-month stretch that produced no charges, the new indictment is part of a flurry of activity for Mueller’s team within the past week.
Besides the charges against the Russians, Mueller’s team on Tuesday unsealed a guilty plea from a Dutch lawyer who admitted he lied to investigators about his contacts with Gates.
Two other people who aided Trump in the campaign or in the White House — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their foreign contacts. Neither man has been sentenced. Both are cooperating with the investigation.
Mueller is also examining whether Trump obstructed justice through actions including the firing last May of FBI Director James Comey. His team has expressed interest in interviewing the president.


Trump likely to meet Putin in ‘not-too-distant-future’

Updated 46 min 16 sec ago
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Trump likely to meet Putin in ‘not-too-distant-future’

  • The US National Security Adviser will travel to Moscow next week to explore the idea of a meeting
  • Speculation has been rife in Russian and Western media on the highly anticipated meeting

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump is likely to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin “in the not-too-distant future,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a US television interview, after Trump mooted a possible summit.
The White House announced on Thursday that National Security Adviser John Bolton will travel to Moscow next week to explore the idea of a meeting.
“I know Ambassador Bolton’s planning to travel to Moscow on Sunday or Monday. He’ll be meeting with his counterpart, and I think it’s likely that president Trump will be meeting with his counterpart in the not-too-distant future following that meeting,” Pompeo told MSNBC, according to a transcript released Saturday by the State Department.
“I don’t know what the president’s schedule is going to be,” Pompeo said in the Friday interview.
Speculation has been rife in Russian and Western media on the highly anticipated meeting, which they first discussed in March.
Such talks would be scrutinized because of the continuing probe by a US special counsel into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.
Bolton’s visit was announced almost two weeks after Trump said that Russia should be re-admitted to the G7 group of industralized democracies, from which it was suspended for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Trump is due to participate on July 11-12 in the NATO summit in Brussels before heading on to Britain to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II.
Earlier this month, Putin said he was ready to meet his US counterpart as soon as Washington gave its approval, adding that Vienna could be a possible venue for such a summit.
Ties between Washington and Moscow have been strained by the Russia probe and Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
The last, brief meeting between Putin and Trump took place in November 2017 in Vietnam during an APEC leaders’ summit.