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Russia Investigation

Trump aide told Australian diplomat Russia had dirt on Clinton – report

George Papadopoulos spoke to high commissioner Alexander Downer at London bar in May 2016, catalyzing FBI investigation, New York Times reports

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Trump aide told Australian diplomat Russia had dirt on Clinton – report” was written by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, for The Guardian on Sunday 31st December 2017 00.17 UTC

The FBI reportedly launched its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election after George Papadopoulos, then a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, told an Australian diplomat that Moscow had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

According to a report published by the New York Times on Saturday, Papadopoulos made the revelation to Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the UK, “during a night of heavy drinking” at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.

Papadopoulos reportedly told Downer that Russian officials possessed thousands of emails that could harm Clinton’s candidacy.

Australia is part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. When WikiLeaks began publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials two months later, Australian officials passed the information to their US counterparts, the Times report stated. The FBI then began its investigation.

A White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, declined to comment, saying in a statement that the administration was continuing to cooperate with the investigation now led by the special counsel Robert Mueller “to help complete their inquiry expeditiously”.

Interactive

In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his communications with the Russians. He is said to have been cooperating since July with Mueller, who was appointed in May to oversee the federal inquiry into links between Trump and Russia.

The White House has sought to portray Papadopoulos as a low-level staffer whose contacts with the Russians were made independently. The Times report said court documents showed Papadopoulos repeatedly tried to coordinate a meeting between Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and notified senior campaign officials of his efforts.

The Times report comes as Republicans have escalated their attacks on the independence of Mueller’s investigation, zeroing in on the FBI’s use of a dossier regarding links between Trump and Russia compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele.

The 2020 election

The most likely price Trump would pay, if he were perceived guilty of wrongdoing, would be a 2020 re-election loss. He can’t afford to lose many supporters and expect to remain in office. Any disillusionment stemming from the Russian affair could make the difference. His average approval rating has hung in the mid-to-upper 30s. Every president to win re-election since the second world war did so with an approval rating in the 49%-50% range or better.

Congress

As long as Republicans are in charge, Trump is not likely to face impeachment proceedings or to be removed from office. A two-thirds majority in the Senate is required to remove a president from office through impeachment.

Public opinion

If public opinion swings precipitously against the president, however, his grip on power could slip. At some point, Republicans in Congress may, if their constituents will it, turn on Trump.

Criminal charges

Apart from impeachment, Trump could, perhaps, face criminal charges, which would (theoretically) play out in the court system as opposed to Congress. But it’s a matter of debate among scholars and prosecutors whether Trump, as a sitting president, may be prosecuted in this way.

Other

Robert Mueller is believed to have Trump’s tax returns, and to be looking at the Trump Organization as well as Jared Kushner’s real estate company. It’s possible that wrongdoing unrelated to the election could be uncovered and make trouble for Trump. The president, and Kushner, deny wrongdoing.

The dossier grew out of a commission by a conservative website to Steele’s firm, Fusion GPS, for opposition research during the Republican primary. It was later funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

The NYT report stated that Steele was interviewed by the FBI in October 2016, three months after he presented some of his findings to agents in Rome. But US officials told the NYT Steele’s research was not the catalyst for the counter-intelligence inquiry into Russian election interference.

Papadopoulos was appointed to Trump’s team of foreign policy advisers in March 2016. He reportedly offered to facilitate a meeting with Putin at a meeting including Trump that month.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, who led the foreign policy team, has claimed he told Papadopoulos to stand down. However, Sessions initially failed to mention the discussion while testifying before Congress. He later claimed that was because he had not recalled the meeting.

Papadopoulos edited an outline of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech in April 2016, in which the candidate expressed his desire to improve US-Russia relations. Papadopoulos, the Times reported, highlighted the speech to his contacts in Moscow, suggesting it was a “signal to meet”.

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Russia Investigation

Robert Mueller files 32 new fraud charges against ex-Trump aides

The move marks the latest step in ratcheting up pressure on former Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Robert Mueller files 32 new fraud charges against ex-Trump aides” was written by Julian Borger in Washington, for The Guardian on Friday 23rd February 2018 01.21 UTC

More than 30 new charges, involving millions of dollars of bank and tax fraud, were filed on Thursday against Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his business partner.

The 32 new charges were filed by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and a Russian intelligence operation to skew the 2016 presidential election.

The move marks the latest step in ratcheting up pressure on Manafort, and Rick Gates, his business partner who was deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. Gates has been reported to be negotiating a cooperation deal with Mueller’s office, which is in turn likely to significantly increase the pressure on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into collusion.

The new charges come on top of the original 12-count indictment of Manafort and Gates in October, which focused on money-laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent.

No trial date has yet been set for Manafort or Gates, and Manafort remains under house arrest, as the special counsel’s office has argued against his lawyers’ bail proposals, questioning the true value of his assets.

In a statement, Manafort’s spokesman reiterated his client’s innocence, adding: “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.”

The new charge sheet portrays the two men as resorting to increasingly desperate efforts to keep money flowing to finance extravagant lifestyles, when contracts from their main clients, pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, dried up after 2014, when the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Manafort and Gates are alleged to have used elaborate schemes, starting in 2006, to hide their Ukrainian income from US tax authorities, through offshore accounts, and describing cash transfers as loans.

After the Ukrainian funds evaporated, the two men are alleged to have falsified profit and loss and asset statements so that Manafort could convince banks to make loans based on collateral that either did not exist or was grossly exaggerated. The new loans were used as spending money or to pay off older loans that had fallen due.

Paul Manafort served for five months as chairman of the Trump campaign, resigning in August 2016 after past payments he had received for work in the former Soviet bloc came to light. Investigators are believed to be scrutinizing Manafort’s contacts with Russians during the campaign, including an offer by Manafort to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in July 2016 to provide “private briefings” on the US presidential race.

Manafort, 68, was charged on 30 October with multiple federal felonies unconnected with his campaign duties. The charges included money laundering, tax fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors accuse Manafort of using shell companies and tax havens to launder tens of millions of dollars in payments from Kremlin-backed political parties in Ukraine and other employers.

Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Manafort brought deep political experience to the Trump campaign. He had helped incumbent president Gerald Ford beat back a challenge for the nomination by Ronald Reagan at the 1976 Republican national convention and later built a lobbying business in Washington that specialised in unsavory clients around the world. Read more about Manafort’s career here.

“Manafort and Gates fraudulently secured more than twenty million dollars in loans by falsely inflating Manafort’s and his company’s income and by failing to disclose existing debt in order to qualify for the loans,” the special prosecutor indictment said.

At one point, according to the charge sheet, Manafort’s ability to get new credit was affected by a 0,000 American Express credit card bill that was more than 90 days in arrears. Manafort got Gates to write a letter saying he had borrowed Manafort’s card and had run up the charges and would repay them.

Manafort is alleged to have made false statements about his income as recently as October last year. The charges refer on three occasions to another conspirator. It is not clear whether the same co-conspirator is being referred to in each case or whether they refer to more than one person. In one case, the co-conspirator is described as working at one of the lenders that was defrauded.

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Russia Investigation

Former Trump aide Gates to plead guilty, agrees to testify against Manafort, reports say

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WASHINGTON — A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days �� and has made it clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign. The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, who had pleaded… (more…)

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Russia Investigation

DOJ charges 13 Russian nationals with interfering in 2016 election

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Robert Mueller’s office charges 13 Russian nationals, 3 Russian entities with interfering in US political process. Indictment says Russians used fake online personas to support Donald Trump & Bernie Sanders, and to spread derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.

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