Special Counsel Robert Mueller Makes First Charges In Investigation

Oct 30, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today has brought an avalanche of developments involving Russia, the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. For months, it has been clear that special counsel Robert Mueller had his sights trained on the former chair of that campaign.

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JESSICA SCHNEIDER: FBI agents descended on Paul Manafort's Alexandria, Va., apartment.

ERIN BURNETT: Investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

MANU RAJU: Between the Senate Judiciary Committee and Paul Manafort over that subpoena that was issued last night.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today Paul Manafort surrendered to federal custody. So did his top deputy, Richard Gates. The charges - 12 counts ranging from conspiracy against the United States to conspiracy to launder money.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Any reaction, Mr. Manafort?

PAUL MANAFORT: Good morning. Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Mr. Manafort, did you collude with Russians?

KELLY: That's the scene outside the FBI field office here in Washington this morning as Manafort turned himself in.

SHAPIRO: And then another twist - the Justice Department also unsealed court documents having to do with a third former Trump campaign official. His name is George Papadopoulos. He has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. And that guilty plea appears to mark the most explicit evidence we've seen to date connecting the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

KELLY: OK, here to help sort through all of these twists and turns is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, happy to be here.

KELLY: I'm sure you are and having quite a busy day. All right, I'm going to start. Paul Manafort - he's the biggest name of these people that we're reading and hearing about today. But I want to start you with this guilty plea involving George Papadopoulos, which maybe is a bigger deal.

JOHNSON: By far a bigger deal, Mary Louise. George Papadopoulos is a 30-year-old guy, a former policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He admitted to making false statements to the FBI about the nature and extent of his contacts with people close to Russia last year. The court papers lay out a series of contacts and conversations first with a professor with ties to the Russian government, then contact with the woman who was billed as a niece to Vladimir Putin. She wasn't really his niece, Mary Louise.

But Papadopoulos knew, according to the DOJ, in April 2016 that the Russians said they had thousands of emails with dirt on Hillary Clinton. And he tried for months to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and Russians. He reported to supervisors and campaign officials. Some of those people include Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

KELLY: OK, so you're describing Papadopoulos cooperating with the special counsel probe, but Manafort and Gates, however, are not or at least not yet.

JOHNSON: Not yet. They surrendered to the FBI in Washington this morning, and they've pleaded not guilty in court. And they are facing 12 charges that could carry a lot of prison time - conspiracy, failure to register as foreign agents - according to the Justice Department, hiding $75 million in lobbying income.

Now, some of those charges are not so hard for the government to prove. You just produce bank statements and financial records and then compare against tax filings with the IRS. The Justice Department says these guys were not properly paying taxes on that income. One more thing is that Manafort allegedly used some of that money to fund what the Justice Department called a lavish lifestyle - antiques, rugs, shopping in Beverly Hills, properties in New York and Virginia. And the special counsel wants to get Manafort to forfeit some of that real estate, putting additional squeeze on him right now.

KELLY: So one of the huge questions looming over this today has been how the White House will react. And it was quite a briefing today at the White House. Sarah Huckabee Sanders - spokesperson - said this has nothing to do with the campaign, nothing to do with the president. Walk us through the White House reasoning here.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Sarah Sanders says the charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates involve their private business interests, not the campaign even though the special counsel says both of those men misled the Justice Department about their holdings in September and October 2016 during the campaign and up to January 2017 this year.

As for Papadopoulos, Sarah Sanders described his job as extremely limited and a volunteer position on the campaign. For what it's worth, the court papers say Papadopoulos reported his activities to supervisors in the campaign. He had at least one meeting where Trump was present. And in fact, last year, Donald Trump tweeted out a photo of a meeting where he was at the table with Papadopoulos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other advisers.

KELLY: OK, that's NPR Justice Department correspondent Carrie Johnson on the avalanche of developments today to do with the Russia probe. Carrie, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.