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White House distances itself from tainted Trump campaign aides

Trump has insisted that there was no collusion with Russia during the presidential elections and demanded that his Democratic party rival Hillary Clinton be probed.

world Updated: Oct 31, 2017 22:20 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US presidential elections,Trump campaign chairman,Paul Manafort
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort leaves US federal court after being arraigned on 12 charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. (Reuters)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates pleaded not guilty to the 12-count indictment handed to them as the White House distanced itself from them, the charges against them and a guilty plea entered by another campaign aide George Papadopoulos.

Manafort was ordered a bail amount of $10 million — the same as Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff — while bail for Gates was set at $5 million. They were also put under house arrest and ordered to surrender their passports as they are considered a flight risk given their work for foreign governments in the past.

Investigators probing Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election have accused Manafort and Gates of conspiring against the United States, failing to declare themselves as foreign agents while working for the Ukrainian government, concealing foreign income to avoid paying taxes, and making false statements.

Papadopoulos, the third aide who was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, has already pleaded guilty to lying about contacts with Russian officials and has been cooperating with the investigation in a plea deal, which could mean, though not necessarily, wearing a wire to implicate others.

The White House sought to dismiss Papadopoulos as only a “volunteer” with the campaign, whose outreach to the Russians, meticulously detailed in his offence document, were repeatedly rebuffed.

Read more: Trump campaign ex-chair arrested for conspiracy against US, aide pleads guilty on Russia links

“He reached out and nothing happened beyond that – which, I think, shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign, and, two, what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president’s press secretary, told reporters.

She also dismissed the indictment of Manafort and Gates as having “nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity”, reiterating a line of defence laid out in the first response by Trump and his administration.

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” Trump had said.

Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing, who took the same line as Trump, said in a statement that Manafort’s work with Ukraine wrapped up long before he began working for Trump. “President Donald Trump was correct. There is no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russia government.”

Downing sought to make light of the charges brought against Manafort — especially of failing to register as a foreign agent, which he called a “very novel theory” and that it was so rare it had been used by the US only six times since 1966, and only one of them ended in conviction.

He also found it “ridiculous” that Manafort had been accused of maintaining offshore accounts to bring money into the US.

A spokesman for Gates – who continued to work for the Trump campaign right up to the inauguration, unlike his boss who had been eased out in August – has said his client looks forward to contesting the charges in court.

First Published: Oct 31, 2017 09:36 IST