Probe into Russian meddling in US election claims scalps of six top Trump aides

(Top row, from left) Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort; former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn; and US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

(Bottom row, from left) Former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates; former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos; and former Trump campaign political adviser Roger Stone.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former Trump campaign Paul Manafort was hit on Thursday (March 7) with the longest sentence yet arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election: 47 months in prison.

Since taking over the probe in May 2017, Mr Mueller has filed charges against six former senior aides and associates of Mr Trump.

Of them, five - including Manafort - have pleaded guilty or been convicted.

The sixth, long-time Trump political consultant Roger Stone, was arrested and charged only in January.

Here are the top Trump associates who have been charged:

Paul Manafort

Manafort, 69, a veteran Republican political consultant, was Mr Trump's campaign chairman for several months in 2016.

He was charged in two separate cases, one in Alexandria, Virginia, and the second in Washington, with a range of crimes arising from his decade working for wealthy Moscow-allied politicians in Ukraine. Those crimes include money laundering, tax evasion and bank fraud.

He was convicted by a jury in the Alexandria case and then entered a plea deal in the Washington probe. But he was then charged with lying to investigators, invalidating his plea deal.

While his cases are not directly related to Russian election meddling, Manafort's cases revealed he had multiple Russian contacts during the election campaign and shared campaign data with one, raising suggestions of collusion.

His case could also figure in allegations of obstruction against Mr Trump, who some suspect dangled a pardon for Manafort in exchange for not revealing information that would damage the president.

Michael Flynn

Mr Trump's former national security advisor Flynn, 60, was investigated over his contacts with Russia's ambassador and actions working for Turkey during and after the campaign.

Eventually he was charged in a plea deal with prosecutors for lying to the FBI, and has reportedly cooperated in the investigations as he awaits sentencing.

Michael Cohen

Cohen, 52, Mr Trump's long-time personal attorney and fixer, was sentenced to three years in prison in December after pleading guilty to tax evasion, violating campaign finance laws, and making false statements to Congress, implicating Mr Trump and the White House in some of those crimes.

He is to report to prison on May 6, following his testimony to several committees in Congress investigating Russia and Mr Trump.

Rick Gates

Gates, 46, was Manafort's business partner in Ukraine and deputy chairman on the Trump campaign. Threatened with many of the same crimes Manafort was charged with, he reached a plea deal to lesser charges of lying to the FBI and financial fraud, and testified against Manafort at his trial. He continues to cooperate while awaiting sentencing.

George Papadopoulos

Papadopoulos, 31, served on Mr Trump's foreign policy advisory team and tried to set up meetings with Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin. He was sentenced to two weeks in prison after admitting he lied to the FBI.

Roger Stone

Stone, a long-time Republican campaign consultant and Trump friend, was arrested on Jan 25 and charged with seven counts including obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering. The investigation has focused on Stone's alleged contacts with WikiLeaks, which published materials stolen from the Democrats by the Russians during the campaign. Stone pleaded not guilty.

Other indictments

Several other minor figures in Mr Mueller's investigation have been charged and convicted in plea deals.

Mr Mueller has also charged 25 Russians with conspiracy related to meddling in the 2016 election, including a group of hackers from the GRU, Moscow's military intelligence bureau, and a group of social media experts from Russia's Internet Research Agency troll farm.

All are believed to be safely in Russia and not expected to go on trial.

In June 2018, Konstantin Kilimnik, who worked with Manafort in Ukraine and allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence, was charged with obstruction of justice.

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