Washington – Paul Manafort’s indictment on Monday widened a partisan split, with Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, calling for an increased pace of investigation and added protections for special counsel Robert Mueller and Republicans demanding equal effort be spent on a probe of ties between Democrats and the Russians.
Mueller on Monday unveiled charges against three former Trump campaign officials — former campaign chairman Manafort, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Manafort’s longtime business partner Rick Gates, who also worked on the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to making a false statement to FBI investigators.
Manafort and Gates entered “not guilty” pleas on Monday. Both men had surrendered to the FBI earlier in the day. A judge set New Britain native Manafort’s bail at $10 million.
The indictments, the first criminal charges filed in Mueller’s investigation of ties between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign, prompted Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, to tweet “Let’s see, as of this morning, one guilty plea and two indictments of/by your people @realDonaldTrump May be time to retire “Witch Hunt”.
Meanwhile, Trump sought to discredit Mueller’s findings, tweeting “Why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” of Mueller’s probe. The president also insisted “there is NO COLLUSION!” between his campaign and the Russians.
Manafort’s indictment centered on tax evasion, money laundering, and failing to file as a foreign agent as a representative of a pro-Russian Ukrainian party.
In the last couple of weeks, Trump and GOP lawmakers have pressed for investigations of funding by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of opposition research into Trump that helped create a highly publicized “dossier” and fueled some allegations against Trump that are now under scrutiny by Mueller.
Republicans also are calling for a probe into the 2010 deal approved by the Obama administration while Clinton was secretary of state that allowed a Russian nuclear energy agency to acquire a controlling stake in a Canadian-based company that had mining licenses for about 20 percent of U.S. uranium extraction capacity. The company cannot export the uranium.
Earlier this month, the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee launched probes of the uranium deal.
But the indictment of Manafort has ratcheted up the political stakes in Mueller’s investigation and increased Democratic calls to refocus congressional efforts on Russian ties to the White House.
Democrats on Monday also pressed Congress to pass bills that would give added protections to the special counsel.
“It is imperative that Congress take action now to protect the independence of the Special Counsel, wherever or however high his investigation may lead,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Warner also said Congress “must also make it clear” that any attempts to pardon Manafort “would be unacceptable, and result in immediate, bipartisan action by Congress.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “The president now owes the American people a serious explanation of his decision to hire Manafort and his own knowledge of this conspiracy.”
“As this investigation moves forward into its next critical stage, Special Counsel Mueller must be protected against any political interference,” Blumenthal said. “The Senate Judiciary Committee must move forward with public hearings, and witnesses under oath to examine the full extent of Russian interference in our elections and how the Trump Administration may have thwarted the work of the FBI.”
At her daily press briefing on Monday White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the indictment’s in Mueller’s probe have “nothing to do” with Trump or his campaign.
When asked if Trump plans to fire Mueller, Sanders replied, “There is no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel.”
Papadopolous’ indictment may be more damaging to the White House. According to the complaint, Papadopolous lied to FBI agents “about the timing, extent and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials.”
Among other things, the FBI alleges Papadopolous “falsely described his interactions with a certain foreign contact who discussed ‘dirt’ related to emails concerning Hillary Clinton.”
Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said “the indictments issued today against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates make clear the seriousness and momentum with which Robert Mueller is pursuing this investigation.”
“Even more damning is the guilty plea entered by George Papadopolus for lying to federal agents about his discussions with Russians, yet another contact heretofore unacknowledged by the Trump campaign,” Himes said. “Money laundering, making false statements, and conspiracy against the United States are crimes against all Americans and should be fully prosecuted as an assault on the foundations of our democracy.”
He said the House Intelligence Committee investigation “will continue in parallel with law-enforcement efforts. “