Mueller Brings More Charges Against Manafort, Gates

Feb 22, 2018
Originally published on February 24, 2018 2:03 am

Updated at 8:32 p.m. ET

A federal grand jury unveiled new charges on Thursday against Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, accusing them of a broader range of financial crimes.

The 32-count indictment filed in the Eastern District of Virginia includes numerous tax and bank fraud charges. Manafort and Gates are already facing money laundering and other charges in federal court in Washington, D.C.

They have pleaded not guilty.

The charges unsealed Thursday compound both Manafort's and Gates' already-immense legal troubles and may be an attempt by special counsel Robert Mueller's team to squeeze the men further.

Sources have told NPR in recent weeks that Gates, who is struggling to pay his mounting legal fees, may be in the process of negotiating a guilty plea.

Manafort and Gates are two of the most prominent members of Trump's former campaign to face criminal charges as part of the special counsel's investigation into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos have both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians.

Last week, Mueller's office unveiled charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for their alleged role in the Kremlin's interference operation.

The charges Manafort and Gates face stem from political consulting work they did for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for allegedly attempting to shield their earnings from that work from U.S. authorities. Many of the alleged crimes date back to years to before the 2016 campaign, but some continued past Election Day.

The charges do not include allegations that either man colluded with a foreign attack on the election, a point emphasized in a statement from a spokesman for Manafort.

"Paul Manafort is innocent of the allegations set out in the newly filed indictments and he is confident that he will be acquitted of all charges," spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement provided to NPR. "The new allegations against Mr. Manafort, once again, have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion. Mr. Manafort is confident that he will be acquitted and violations of his constitutional rights will be remedied."

In its court filing Thursday, the special counsel's office said it brought the new charges before the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia because "our current evidence venue for these charges does not exist in the District of Columbia."

The new indictment, which was widely expected, appeared amid questions about Gates' legal team. His lawyers have requested to withdraw from the case. Gates said in court papers filed Thursday that he does not oppose their departure and that he has new counsel, Thomas C. Green.

The latest developments in Mueller's Russia investigation also follow a guilty plea from a London-based lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, who was an associate of Gates. Van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen and son-in-law of one of Russia's richest men, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

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More pressure on former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, tonight. A federal grand jury has unveiled 32 new criminal charges against Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. The men are accused of failing to pay taxes on their foreign lobbying income also of misleading banks. With us to talk more about the case is NPR Justice Correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.


KELLY: All right, so what's going on here because Manafort and Rick Gates were already facing conspiracy and money laundering charges in Washington. You've been all over reporting that. Why are prosecutors adding new charges now?

JOHNSON: That's right. This grand jury in D.C. had already charged these men with concealing $75 million in foreign lobbying income - proceeds from their unregistered foreign lobbying. But there were no tax charges in that indictment back in October of last year, which was kind of curious. Now, today - of course, if you're making this money, you're supposed to be paying taxes on it. And today that reckoning came in Virginia. Sixteen tax counts related to false individual income tax returns, seven counts of failure to file reports about their foreign bank holdings and more charges of conspiracy and bank fraud here.

KELLY: And you just said these new charges came from Virginia - from a grand jury in Virginia. The existing case was in D.C. Why not just have the special counsel add on to that existing case?

JOHNSON: For kind of nerdy legal reasons...


JOHNSON: The special counsel team said in court papers, they just didn't have venue in D.C.

KELLY: What's that mean - venue?

JOHNSON: Well, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort both have residences in Virginia, not Washington, D.C. Special Counsel Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said in court papers. He met with these defense lawyers before bringing this new indictment to give these defense lawyers a chance to argue against the case. He said they offered the defendants a chance to waive this jurisdictional issue - this wonky legal issue, but one of the defendants said no. So this means they're fighting two different criminal cases in two different courts now.

KELLY: Now, you had been reporting that one of these men, Rick Gates, the deputy had been in discussions with special counsel, Robert Mueller, to plead guilty. Do we know if they have reached some kind of deal?

JOHNSON: No deal is final until the papers are signed. If there is such a deal, it is not yet public. It's in fact a little surprising to have this new batch of charges come out while Rick Gates still may be in talks with the prosecutors. The reason for that is you want to make a deal before a new grand jury indictment hits, you after deal with another judge, another courthouse. But here's what we know for now. Rick Gates and his defense lawyers have some kind of proceeding - some kind of conflict that they've been going over in chambers, under seal with the judge in D.C. They're due back in court tomorrow morning in front of the judge in D.C. We may find out more then about what the nature is with his conflict with his current defense lawyers.

KELLY: Let me ask you the the big picture why this matters question. You know, whether Paul Manafort and Rick Gates failed to pay their taxes or not. What does any of that have to do with the Russia probe and all the questions about Russian interference in the Trump campaign or the 2016 election?

JOHNSON: Well, remember, Mary Louise, you know, Paul Manafort was Donald Trump's campaign chairman for a time...

KELLY: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Even after he left the campaign, Rick Gates stayed on in the campaign. He worked on the inauguration. He visited the White House last year. Some of this charged conduct today in the indictment continued through the course of the election and beyond. And both men had ties to that pro-Russia government in Ukraine that was the source of a lot of their foreign lobbying dough. We know that the special counsel is interested in that because, of course, he got a guilty plea earlier this week from a European lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about some of this Ukrainian lobbying that they all did together back in earlier times.

KELLY: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks very much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.