Manafort, Associate Surrender to US Authorities in Russia Probe
Paul Manafort, who for a short time was U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman last year, turned himself in to authorities Monday, as part of the criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
A federal grand jury on Friday approved charges in the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort long has helped run a Washington lobbying firm representing world leaders, including interests in Ukraine and Russia. A former business partner of Manafort’s, Rick Gates, also surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The charges filed by Mueller are the first since he assumed control of the investigation in May and mark 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 stunning election upset of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Mueller is a former director of the FBI and viewed in Washington by many as apolitical.
Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager from June to August last year and was a key figure in the campaign before then, 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. Reports at the time said he was told then he would be indicted.
In addition to Mueller’s investigation, there are separate congressional probes into Russian meddling and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine U.S. democracy and help Trump win.
Trump has insisted there was no collusion, including in a series of tweets Sunday in which he said Democrats and his election opponent Hillary Clinton are the ones who are guilty.
“The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s [Republicans] are now fighting back like never before,” Trump wrote. “There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”
He further blamed the Russia investigations for taking attention away from Republican efforts on tax reform.
“Is this coincidental? NOT!” Trump said.
Ty Cobb, a member of Trump’s legal team, said in a statement that Trump’s comments were not related to the developments in Mueller’s investigation.
“Contrary to what many have suggested, the President’s comments today are unrelated to the activities of the Special Counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate,” Cobb said.
Mueller is also believed to be investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired by Trump less than a month after he took office for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
In addition, Mueller is probing whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired then-FBI director James Comey in May, who was leading the agency’s Russia investigation before Mueller took over.