Inside Trump - February 26th, 2018

Inside Trump (Feb 26th, 2018)

The latest on Manafort, Gates and the Mueller investigation

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Kind of a slow Monday for news, but an eventful weekend in terms of the ongoing Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Here's a quick catch-up of everything that's happening.

We've been covering these figures for a while, but just for context: Paul Manafort is a lobbyist, lawyer and political consultant. For a time, he worked at the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly with Richard Gates, and in 2006, the two of them split off and founded a new consulting company, Davis Manafort. They did work in Ukraine, and had an office in Kiev. In February 2016, Manafort approached then-candidate Donald Trump about potentially working together. In March, he signed on to the Trump campaign, helping to track down and organize convention delegates.

In June of 2016, Manafort took over control the campaign after Trump fired Corey Lewandowski. Richard Gates joined the campaign as Manafort's deputy campaign manager. However, in August, following reports in the media about Manafort's lobbying work in Russia, and his connections with various pro-Putin figures in Ukraine, he resigned.

This brings us to October 30, 2017, when Manafort and Gates surrendered to the FBI on charges related to conspiracy and money laundering. (Some reports claim that the laundered amount could be as high as $60 million.) At that time, Trump campaign staffer named George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and announced that he was cooperating with the investigation. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a good overview of the allegations against Manafort and Gates dating back to their lobbying years. Much of it concerns work on behalf of deposed Ukranian leader Viktor Yanukovych, a figure closely associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last week, 32 superseding indictments were filed against both Manafort and Gates alleging tax and bank fraud. ("Superseding" means that these new charges now take precedence.) You can read the full text hereRick Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller team. Here's the full text of Gates' plea deal. Manafort has maintained his innocence, and says he does not understand why Gates chose to plead guilty. 

The investigation apparently now involves illegal activity committed as recently as January of 2017, and includes allegations that the duo hid income from the US government and filed inaccurate tax returns from 2010 to 2014. An apparently key piece of evidence being used by the Mueller team is an email exchange between Manafort and Gates discussing the process for converting a file from PDF into a Microsoft Word-friendly format. 

Mueller has also indicted lawyer Alex van der Zwaan for making false statements to investigators about his past communication with Gates, regarding a report on the imprisonment of a political opponent to Viktor Yanukovych. Van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen and the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, subsequently pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on April 3.

Mueller has accused Manafort of operating a secret collective of senior European politicians - informally known as the Hapsburg Group - to lobby on behalf of Ukranian interests in both Europe and the US, paying out up to 2 million euros in 2013 and 2014. Former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi has since admitted to working behind-the-scenes on favorable Ukrainian-European relations, but denies it had anything to do with payouts from Manafort. (He claims that he believed the funds came from Alfred Gusenbauer, the former chancellor of Austria.)

Other allegations currently under investigation involve home loans provided to Manafort under questionable circumstances. Mueller's team is looking into charges that Chicago banker Stephen Calk may have provided Manafort with $16 million in home loans in exchange for access to the Trump campaign, and the alleged promise of a job with the White House. Manafort's role in a string of high-profile California bankruptcies, and home loans relating to those bankruptcies, is also under investigation. On Friday, in response to a proposal from Manafort's team - he hopes to use some of the properties he owns to secure bail - prosecutors introduced evidence of new "bank frauds and conspiracies."

What do you think, Inside Trump readers? Do you believe Gates or Manafort? Does this significantly relate to the President and his campaign? Is it a coincidence that Russians may have attempted to interfere in the election at the same time that Manafort was running the Trump campaign? Or do you believe that happened at all? Hit REPLY to this email and let us hear from you!

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