Paul Manafort, who for three months was President Donald Trump's campaign chairman last year, was charged Monday with conspiring against the United States, money laundering and lying to the government as part of a wide-ranging lobbying effort for former Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych.
Manafort and a former business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. They were the first charges Mueller has made public in his five-month probe, although the allegations did not relate directly to the election.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report made public in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine U.S. democracy and help Trump win. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the allegations, saying there is no evidence of election meddling in the United States or other countries.
Trump has also insisted there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Both Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington for processing and later pleaded "not guilty" in a federal court. A judge ordered both placed under house arrest.
In addition, Mueller disclosed that former Trump foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty October 5 to lying to federal agents in January about his contacts with people "he understood to have close connections to senior Russian government officials."
Court documents say authorities arrested Papadopoulos in July, and that in multiple conversations with investigators he outlined discussions about setting up a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials to discuss U.S.-Russia relations.
The documents also say one of the contacts told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." In July 2016, WikiLeaks released thousands of Democratic National Committee emails, with many of them showing embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party's nomination. She has partly blamed her loss on the disclosure of the emails.
Trump did not comment on the Papadopoulos case, but in March 2016 described him as "an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Papadopoulos as a "volunteer on the campaign" and a member of an advisory committee that met only once. She said the fact that Papadopoulos failed in efforts to set up a Trump meeting with Russian officials "shows what little role he had in the campaign."
Trump discounted the Manafort indictment as irrelevant to the 2016 campaign and again said investigators' focus ought to be on Clinton.
Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren%27t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
Mueller's targeting of Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos marks a sharp turn of events in the Russia probe that has cast a shadow on the first year of Trump's presidency.
Trump has repeatedly called the criminal and congressional probes into connections between his campaign and Russian interests a "witch hunt" used by Democrats to explain his election win over Clinton. But Mueller is a former director of the FBI and viewed in Washington by many as apolitical.
The indictment alleged that Manafort, who was Trump's campaign manager from June to August last year and was a key figure in the campaign before then, enriched himself with his lobbying for Yanukovych before he was forced from power by a popular uprising in 2014 and fled to Russia.
Mueller alleged that Manafort hid his assets in accounts in Cyprus, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines and the Seychelles and then "spent millions of dollars in luxury goods" to "enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States."
The indictment alleged that more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, with Manafort laundering more than $18 million to buy property and goods in the U.S. and Gates sending more than $3 million to accounts he controlled.
Mueller charged that Manafort and Gates conspired to carry out the scheme between 2006 and this year, failed to register as foreign agents and then offered "false and misleading" statements to federal agents about their activities.
Manafort left Trump's campaign more than a year ago when reports first surfaced about his Ukrainian connections. He was roused from his sleep in a pre-dawn raid on his home in suburban Washington in late July, as FBI agents carted off documents related to the investigation.
In addition to Mueller's investigation, there are separate congressional probes into Russian meddling and possible links between Trump's campaign and Russia.