Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, surrendered to the FBI on Monday and another ex-aide pleaded guilty to lying to agents in the most serious steps yet of a federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.Manafort, 68, a longtime Republican operative, arrived at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington field office to hand himself in after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including money laundering, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Neither Trump nor his campaign were mentioned in the indictment and many of the charges, some of which go back more than a decade, have to do with Manafort's work for Ukraine's pro-Russian government and political figures there.
But in a separate development directly related to Trump's 2016 election campaign, it emerged on Monday that a former campaign aide George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to FBI agents.
The office of Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Papadopoulos had told FBI agents he had been in contact with a professor in London who claimed to have information that would hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails."
Papadopolous initially said such contacts occurred before he joined Trump's campaign but in fact he did not meet the professor until after he joined the campaign, the counsel's office said.
Investigations by Mueller and several congressional panels into alleged Russian efforts to tilt the election in Trump's favour and potential collusion by Trump aides have cast a shadow over the Republican president's first nine months in office, and have widened the rift between Republicans and Democrats.
Manafort ran the Trump campaign from June to August of 2016 before resigning amid reports he might have received millions in illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.
Manafort associate Rick Gates was also named in the 12-count indictment, the first since Mueller was appointed special counsel in May.
Lawyers for Gates and Manafort did not immediately return calls for comment.
An initial court appearance and arraignment for the two men was scheduled for 1:30 pm on Monday in Washington.
Trump, who has denied any allegations of collusion with the Russians, reiterated that denial on Monday, as well as his public frustration with the Mueller probe, which he has called "a witch hunt."
"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?????," Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to Clinton.
"It has nothing to do with the campaign or the allegations of collusion with Russia,” said Washington attorney John Dowd, who represents Trump in the Russia probe, of the indictment.
Legal experts said the indictment could just be an opening salvo by Mueller. It put pressure on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller’s Russia investigation, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. "If I were the defense lawyer I’d be looking into cooperating,” he said.
US intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the election, by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit Clinton. The Kremlin has denied any meddling.
The indictment contains counts of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine's government, false and misleading statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, the special counsel said.
Mueller has been investigating Manafort’s financial and real estate dealings and his prior work for a political group, the Party of Regions, which backed former pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
Both Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars of income from Ukraine work and laundered money through scores of U.S. and foreign entities to hide payments from U.S. authorities, the indictment said.
They concealed from the United States their work and revenue as agents of Ukrainian political parties and used their wealth to lead a "lavish lifestyle" without paying taxes on the income, it says.
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer called for the Trump administration to avoid interfering with Mueller's probe.
"The rule of law is paramount in America and the investigation must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way," Schumer said.
Gates was a longtime business partner of Manafort and has ties to many of the same Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. He also served as deputy to Manafort during his brief tenure as Trump’s campaign chairman.
Manafort was indicted on nine counts and Gates was indicted on eight counts.
In stock trading, gains on US stock markets were limited as investors assessed the first charges arising from the Mueller probe.