Paul Manafort Indicted, George Papadopoulos Guilty
Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation (see “Russia Investigation: Special Counsel Appointed,” published on May 18, 2017) is yielding results. On Monday, October 30, 2017, Paul J. Manafort Jr., surrendered to the FBI after he was indicted on several charges, including conspiracy and money laundering. Also indicted was Manafort’s associate Richard W. Gates III. Both are now under house arrest. On the same day, it was revealed George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Manafort has strong ties to President Donald J. Trump and served as the now-president’s campaign manager beginning in June 2016 after Trump’s original campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was fired due to a scandal which erupted after he was charged with battery for grabbing former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a campaign event. Following Manafort’s hiring, he renewed his contract to work for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire for whom he had worked previously promoting the interests of Putin’s government. In August 2016, it was revealed that Manafort had taken $12.7 million in off-the-books payments from the Party of Regions, a pro-Russia Ukrainian group with ties to Viktor Yanukovych, another person for whom Manafort had previously worked. It was also reported that Manafort had failed to disclose $2.2 million he sent to lobbying firms on behalf of the Party of Regions. Because of this and the fact that Trump’s polling numbers were in a slump, Manafort was forced to resign and Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway took over.
It was during Manafort’s time as Trump’s campaign manager that Donald Trump Jr. received an email in which Rob Goldstone offered to arrange a meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya who offered incriminating information on Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, “as part of Russia and its government’s support of Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. forwarded the message to Manafort and Trump Sr.’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner met with Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016. Also in attendance was Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who has been described as a “potential spy.”
George Papadopoulos also has ties to Trump. In March 2016, the Trump campaign hired him as a foreign policy advisor. At that time, Trump described Papadopoulos as “an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.” However, since the guilty plea, the White House has tried to downplay Papadopoulos’s role. Spokeswomen Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “[Papadopoulos’s work] was a volunteer position, and… no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.” Nevertheless, in the summer of 2016, Papadopoulos emailed, in the words of court documents, a “high-ranking campaign official” regarding an “off the record” trip to Russia. The official replied, “I would encourage you… to make the trip, if it is feasible.” The trip was for a meeting with a Russian professor with significant ties to Putin’s government. He offered thousands of embarrassing emails relating to Hillary Clinton. Arrested in July, Papadopoulos reached a plea agreement in October for lying to the FBI about that meeting.
It remains to be seen where the Mueller investigation will go from here, but it is possible he will pressure Manafort to cooperate in an effort to bring charges against others for colluding with Russia in its tampering with the 2016 Presidential Election. How far and how high this will reach may not be known for some time, but it is clear that Mueller’s investigation is more than a mere witch hunt.