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Mueller Indictments Explained

By VOA News October 30, 2017

What happened Monday?

Political consultant Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were indicted on charges including conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, tax fraud and failure to register as lobbyists for the former government of Ukraine.

The two men, who worked on Donald Trump's presidential campaign, held offshore bank accounts through which more than $75 million flowed, according to the indictment. They are the first charges Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller has made public in his five-month probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Separately, the Justice Department announced that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia-linked individuals who claimed to possess damaging information on Trump's election opponent, Hillary Clinton. There is no indication that Papadopoulos, an international energy lawyer with very little foreign policy experience, ever received such information.

How does this relate to investigations into Russia's alleged interference in the last U.S. presidential elections?

Manafort served as Trump's presidential campaign chair before resigning last August after media reports investigating his ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian political groups.

Gates held a series of positions inside the Trump campaign. None of the charges in Monday's indictment appear to directly involve their work as Trump aides, although some of the alleged crimes were said to have taken place during their time on the campaign.

Although Papadopoulos' position in the campaign was minor compared to Manafort's, his case could be more serious. That's because it involves possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Moscow, which is the main focus of Mueller's investigation.

What are Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos accused of doing?

The indictment lists a series of charges largely relating to Manafort's and Gates' work lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian political groups from 2006 to 2015. The men allegedly hid millions of dollars in payments using offshore bank accounts, failed to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreigners to U.S. officials, and later lied to federal investigators about their relationship with foreign groups. Both men have previously denied any wrongdoing.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in early October to lying to FBI agents about his contacts and communications with Russian intermediaries during his time working for the Trump campaign. His guilty plea was unsealed Monday, after the Manafort's and Gates' indictments had been announced.

According to a DOJ statement, Papadopoulos told FBI agents he had been in touch with an unnamed foreign professor who claimed to have "dirt" on Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." Papadopoulos also initially downplayed the nature of the professor's contacts with Moscow, saying he "was a nothing." But according to the indictment, Papadopoulos understood that the professor had "substantial connections to Russian government officials," and the professor had met with some of those officials immediately prior to telling Papadopoulos about the "dirt" on Clinton.

How serious are these charges?

The indictment against Manafort and Gates may fall short of what many Democrats had predicted or hoped, since they don't prove, or even allege to show, collusion. But still, a president's former campaign chair being indicted on multiple felony counts, including allegedly conducting a secret campaign to influence U.S. politics in a pro-Russia direction, is no small matter.

It's unclear, however, what the indictments signal about the direction of Mueller's Russia probe. Some legal analysts have suggested that Mueller may try to use the charges against Manafort and others to compel them to testify about other alleged crimes. In this respect, the Papadopoulos case may be crucial, since a DOJ statement indicates he already may be cooperating as a witness.

How has the White House reacted?

In a Twitter post, Trump said: "Sorry but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????" In a follow-up tweet, he said: "...Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"

At a White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed the importance of the special counsel developments. "Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the campaign," she said.

What happens next?

Bail for Manafort was set at $10 million and at Gates for $5 million. Both men were forced to surrender their passports and will be under house arrest.

In a statement, Gates' spokesman vowed his client would "confront these charges in court," saying "the fight is just beginning."

Papadopoulos's lawyer released a statement saying it was "in the best interest of our client ... that we refrain from commenting on George's case."

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