WASHINGTON — A former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, special counsel Robert Mueller said Monday, while Trump’s former campaign manager and that official’s business partner pleaded not guilty to felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other counts.
The guilty plea by former adviser George Papadopoulos marked the first criminal case that cites interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign. The developments ushered Mueller’s sprawling investigation into a new phase with felony charges and possible prison sentences for key members of the Trump team.
Court papers also revealed that Papadopoulos was told about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26, 2016, well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked.
Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to court papers, a potentially ominous sign for others in the Trump orbit who might be implicated by his statements.
During the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, saying it was “extremely limited.”
“He was not paid by the campaign,” Sanders said, adding later: “Any actions that he took would have been on his own.”
The president quickly tweeted about the allegations against Manafort, saying the alleged crimes were “years ago,” and insisting there was “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia.
Manafort and Gates appeared in federal court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Papadopoulos’ plea occurred on October 5 and was unsealed Monday. In court papers, he admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials. Those interactions included speaking with Russian intermediaries who were attempting to line up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offering “dirt” on Clinton.
The court filings don’t provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.
The FBI interviewed Papadopoulos about his Russian connections on January 27, a week after Trump’s inauguration. The interview predates Mueller’s appointment but was part of the FBI probe into Russian election interference that he has taken over.
Papadopoulos was arrested over the summer at Dulles International Airport and has since met with the government “on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”
The separate charges against Manafort and Rick Gates contend the men acted as unregistered foreign agents for Ukrainian interests. The indictments also include other financial counts involving tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts.
Manafort’s indictment doesn’t reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between the Kremlin and the president’s aides to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. The indictment does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.
The indictment filed in federal court in Washington accuses both Manafort and Gates of funneling payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their political work in Ukraine. The two men surrendered to federal authorities Monday, and were expected in court later in the day to face the 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, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men 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, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million. A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately return calls or text messages requesting comment. Manafort and Gates have previously denied any wrongdoing.