Mueller Indicts Three Trump Campaign Members
The Special Prosecutor probing alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia has indicted three former members of the President's team - sharply escalating the political stakes and raising the prospect of more charges to come.
Five months after he was appointed to lead the investigation after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Robert Mueller announced 12 charges, including money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the US, against former campaign manager Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates.
Both subsequently pleaded not guilty to all counts when they appeared in a federal court in Washington DC and were set bonds of $10m and $5m respectively, with Mueller's office asking for home arrest as condition of their bail. The charges could mean decades of prison time for the pair if they are found guilty, with the money laundering charges alone carrying up to 20-year sentences. That is not to mention the potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Mueller's investigation also unsealed documents that revealed a former presidential foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, had admitted lying to the FBI when being questioned about his contact with two Russians with apparent close ties to their government. Papadopoulos's guilty plea - coming hours ahead of Manafort's and Gates's court appearance - made him the first Trump campaign official to face charges relating to links to Russian contacts. The FBI said that his "false statements" had slowed their investigation.
The indictment said Papadopoulos admitted discussing obtaining "dirt" about Hillary Clinton with an unnamed Russian professor, while he also met with a woman calling herself the "niece" of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, it is the "dirt" allegation that many critics of Trump will claim proves collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
The developments mark an important milestone in the investigation and are a worrying turn of events for Trump, who has always denied that his campaign in any way cooperated with Vladimir Putin. He has said the various investigations amount to a witch hunt and has claimed the campaign of his rival, Clinton, ought to instead be investigated.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner - the vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is also investigating Russian meddling - called the charges "a significant and sobering step in what will be a complex and likely lengthy investigation by the Special Counsel".
Other leading Democrats, including Chuck Schumer, called on Trump not to interfere in Mueller's work. Meanwhile, a number of Republicans, including New York Representative Peter King, said the indictments put Trump and his campaign in the clear.
Trump was also quick to distance himself from the announcement of the indictments and pointed out that the charges against Manafort and Gates related to events said to have taken place between 2006 and 2015, a period when the pair were not associated with his campaign.
"Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????," he wrote on Twitter.
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Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team