Special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III on Monday revealed charges against three former Trump campaign officials – former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his longtime business partner Rick Gates and former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos – marking the first criminal allegations to come from probes into possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with a foreigner who claimed to have high-level Russian connections, and the agreement was unsealed Monday. Court documents described extensive efforts Papadopoulos made to try to broker connections with Russian officials and arrange a meeting between them and the Trump campaign, though some emails show his offers were rebuffed.
The charges collectively show how Mueller is aggressively probing the lives of those in President Donald Trump’s orbit – digging into their personal finances while also exploring whether they might have coordinated, or tried to coordinate, with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Papadopoulos ultimately admitted to lying to the FBI about his interactions with people he thought had connections with the Russian government. He has been cooperating with investigators for months, according to a court filing, and has met with the government on “numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”
Manafort and Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges stemming from probes into possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.
Manafort and Gates are expected to make their first court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson at 1:30 p.m. ET.
The charges against Manafort and Gates did not reference the Trump campaign, a point President Trump noted on Twitter Monday. “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?????” Trump wrote.
Papadopoulos’s case appears directly related to the investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, reports Washington Post.
In a January 2017 interview with the FBI, Papadopoulos told the agency that a London-based professor claimed to him he had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails,” but Papadopoulos viewed him as a “nothing.”
In reality, according to his plea, Papadopoulos understood the man had connections to Russian government officials, and he had treated him very seriously as he tried to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
After a March 2016 meeting with the man, who was not identified in court records, Papadopoulos emailed a campaign supervisor and other members of the campaign’s foreign policy team and claimed the professor had introduced him to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian ambassador in London.
Papadopoulos claimed the purpose was “to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump.”
The government noted, in fact, the woman was not Russian President Vladimir Putin’s niece, and while Papadopoulos expected the professor would introduce him to the Russian ambassador, that never happened.
But in the months that followed, Papadopoulos continued to correspond with the woman and the professor about a possible meeting between the Trump campaign, possibly including Trump himself, and Russian officials.
“The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready,” Papadopoulos wrote to a senior policy adviser for the campaign on April 25. Two days later, he emailed another high-ranking campaign official wanting “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump.”