News Briefs March 2nd, 2018

Gates pleads guilty in FBI investigation

The FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has again focused on President Trump’s former Campaign Chief Paul Manafort after Rick Gates, who was Trump’s deputy campaign manager and Manafort’s longtime associate, pled guilty to various criminal charges on Friday, Feb. 23.

The most recent charges that were filed on Friday show that in 2012 and 2013, Manafort secretly paid a group of former high-ranking European politicians more than two million euros in exchange for their lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine and pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (CNN, “New indictment accuses Manafort of paying European politicians,” 02.24.2018)

The allegations made by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation show that Manafort paid for services from a secret group of former European politicians, nicknamed the “Habsburg group” after an old Austrian royal family, which ruled much of Europe for centuries. The group was tasked with taking a position that would favor the pro-Russian Ukrainian government by lobbying in the U.S.

It is apparent from the indictment that they lobbied Congress and the White House. Officially, the members of the 2012 group offered their independent assessment of the events in Ukraine to their U.S. counterpart, while they were being paid in private to take a favorable position towards the Ukrainian government (The Telegraph, “Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort ‘paid senior former European politicians to lobby for Ukraine,’” 02.24.2018).

Manafort supposedly led the group in 2012 and 2013 when he was a consultant for Yanukovych. The group was managed by an unnamed former European chancellor. According to Politico, this could be Alfred Gusenbauer, who was an Austrian chancellor from 2007 to 2008. Gusenbauer and two other members of the 2012 group have, according to the U.S. Justice Department, met with members and staff of the U.S. Congress (Politico, “Former Austrian chancellor appears to have lobbied as part of Manafort scheme,” 02.23.2018)

The charges made in Friday’s indictment are in connection to Manafort’s and Gates’s business in Ukraine, conspiracy against the U.S., money laundering, tax evasion and other criminal offenses. The accusations against Manafort span from the time he worked for Yanukovych in 2006 until 2014, thus predating his work with the Trump campaign. The indictment does not charge Manafort with a criminal offense directly in connection to the workings of the 2012 group. However, the group’s activities are cited as evidence of his lobbying for Ukraine. He violated the law by not registering lobbying activities in the U.S. (The Financial Times, “Manafort allegedly paid 2m [euros] to European politicians,” 02.23.2018).

Gates admitted on Friday, Feb. 23, that he had been lying to the FBI about lobbying for Ukraine during Mueller’s investigation. He pled guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for a decreased sentence.

This confession brings a new advantage to the investigation and puts additional pressure on Manafort to begin working with the FBI. For now, Manafort stands by his plea of not guilty (CNN, “New indictment accuses Manafort of paying European politicians,” 02.24.2018).

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