The White House was quick to distance itself from former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, after they were charged in a 12-count federal indictment that included allegations of money laundering and conspiracy against the United States.
"Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity," Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a press conference.
It's true that the indictment against Manafort and Gates does not mention President Donald Trump, his campaign, or Russian meddling in the election.
Instead, it claims that Manafort and Gates were secretly acting as agents for the Ukrainian government and a pro-Russia political party, hiding the tens of millions of dollars they were paid to do so, and lying to federal officials.
But the suspected activities do brush up against Russian interests.
"They had clear multi-million dollar ties to a pro-Russian element of the government of Ukraine, far beyond some rich guy evading taxes," John Helms, former assistant U.S. Attorney and Dallas criminal defense attorney, said.
Helms believes this is likely the tip of the iceberg. He thinks the feds are using the indictment as a tool to put pressure on Manafort and Gates to give more information about the campaign.
"Those are people who were directly involved with the campaign, and they are in a position to know about conduct that is directly connected to the election... and by charging them, it gives the prosecuting team, they hope, access to a lot of information about what was going on in the campaign that they wouldn't otherwise have," Helms said.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the indictment Monday morning:
"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?????"
In fact, the indictment proves that tweet to be false.
While the suspected activity may have started years ago, the indictment claims Manafort continued making false statements to federal investigators and hiding money, even after he joined the Trump campaign in March of 2016.
The indictment cites one incident just days before Manafort stepped down as campaign manager in August 2016 amid reports he had received millions in secret payments from a former Ukrainian president. Gates continued working with the campaign long after Manafort left.
Helms says the indictment is just the beginning of a complicated, wide-reaching case. Keep your eyes peeled for more.
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