WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was yesterday charged with conspiracy against the United States and money laundering, in the first indictment stemming from a sprawling probe into Russian interference in last year's presidential election.
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.
Meanwhile, lawyer George Papadopolous has pleaded guilty to making false statements to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, pleaded guilty on Oct 5 in a case unsealed yesterday, said the federal special counsel's office.
Special counsel Robert Mueller announced the charges against Manafort and Gates.
"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 (the) 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."
In all, the two were hit with 12 charges of conspiracy against the US, conspiracy to launder money, failing to register as a foreign agent, making false statements and failure to report offshore bank accounts.
On Sunday, Mr Trump took to Twitter as speculation mounted about the charges, calling the investigation a "witch hunt" and repeating denials that his White House campaign colluded with Russia.
Manafort was among the participants of a meeting on June 9 last year at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked lawyer that raised suspicions of collusion between the campaign and Moscow. The meeting was arranged by Mr Trump's eldest son Donald Jr in the hopes of receiving damaging information on Mrs Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate.
The indictment made no mention of Russian involvement in the US campaign, focusing instead on Manafort's earlier Ukrainian ties.
A long-time political operative and consultant, Manafort was recruited in March last year to round up pro-Trump delegates to the Republican Party convention. In June, Mr Trump named him campaign chairman.
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 US 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.
With the Mueller investigation entering a dramatic new phase, Republican officials and conservative media have stepped up attacks on Democrats - especially Mrs Clinton - though opponents call these blatant attempts to divert attention.
In his tweets on Sunday, Mr Trump again complained about Mrs Clinton's handling of e-mails, among other things. "There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!" he tweeted.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG