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Manafort, Gates indicted on conspiracy charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a former business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted Monday on charges of conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and several other financial charges.

The charges were the first stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. The indictment filed in federal court in Washington accused both men of funneling tens of millions of dollars in payments through foreign companies and bank accounts.

Manafort and Gates surrendered to federal authorities, and were expected in court later Monday to face charges brought by Mueller’s team.

The indictment lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges that they moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles. In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million, according to the indictment.

Manafort, 68, was fired as Trump’s campaign chairman in August after word surfaced that he had orchestrated a covert lobbying operation on behalf of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The Associated Press reported that Manafort also represented a Russian billionaire a decade ago with the goal of advancing the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The White House declined to comment. A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately return calls or text messages requesting comment.

Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into whether the Kremlin worked with associates of the Trump campaign to tip the 2016 presidential election.

The appointment came one week after the firing James Comey, who as FBI director led the investigation, and also followed the recusal months earlier of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the probe.

Investigators have focused on associates including Manafort, whose home was raided in July by agents searching for tax and international banking records, and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in February after White House officials said he had misled them about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and oversaw the convention delegate strategy. Trump pushed him out in August amid a steady stream of negative headlines about Manafort’s foreign consulting work.

Trump’s middle son, Eric Trump, said in an interview at the time that his father was concerned that questions about Manafort’s past were taking attention away from the billionaire’s presidential bid.

Manafort has been a subject of a longstanding FBI investigation into his dealings in Ukraine and work for the country’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. That investigation was incorporated into Mueller’s broader probe.

Previously, he denied any wrongdoing related to his Ukrainian work, saying through a spokesman that it “was totally open and appropriate.”

Manafort also recently registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for parts of Ukrainian work that occurred in Washington. The filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act came retroactively, a tacit acknowledgment that he operated in Washington in violation of the federal transparency law.

Mueller’s investigation has also reached into the White House, as he examines the circumstances of Comey’s firing. Investigators have requested extensive documents from the White House about key actions since Trump took office and have interviewed multiple current and former officials.

Mueller’s grand jury has also heard testimony about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by a Russian lawyer as well as Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

In Gates, Mueller brings in not just Manafort’s chief deputy, but a key player from Trump’s campaign who survived past Manafort’s ouster last summer. As of two weeks ago, Gates was still working for Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant, helping with the closeout of the inauguration committee’s campaign account.

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