Paul Manafort, the one-time chair of the Trump campaign, and Richard Gates, a business partner also involved in the campaign, pleaded not guilty to all charges on their joint indictment Monday. The pair were released on house arrest.
One of Manafort’s defense attorneys, Kevin Downing, was defiant as he spoke to the press about what he characterized as “novel.”
“I think you all saw today that President Donald Trump was correct. There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government,” he told the throng of reporters waiting outside Prettyman United States Courthouse in Washington, DC, echoing similar claims by the White House on news of the indictment.
All charges against both Manafort and Gates are entirely unrelated to their work with the Trump campaign and stem from alleged misconduct when Manafort served as a consultant for Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych before that democratically elected pro-Russian leader’s demise in 2014 “Euromaidan Revolution.”
Despite his general warmth with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and support base among Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority, Yanukovich also made overtures to the European Union over Ukraine’s future. Downing characterized Manafort’s work as follows:
Mr. Manafort represented pro-European Union campaigns for the Ukrainians. And in that he was seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU. Those activities ended in 2014, over two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump campaign.
Manafort and Gates stand accused of a bevy of financial crimes stemming from their alleged hiding of receipts from this business in overseas accounts and violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The two men allegedly failed to register as foreign agents and then made misleading and inaccurate filings in 2016 and 2017 when they finally did.
Downing took issue with the FARA charges, finding them unusual. “Today you see an indictment brought by an Office of the Special Counsel that is using a very novel theory to prosecute Mr. Manafort, regarding a FARA filing,” he said, “the United States government has only used that offense six times since 1966 and only resulted in one conviction.”
Manafort’s lawyer was just as critical of the money laundering allegations. “The second thing about this indictment that I myself find most ridiculous is the claim that maintaining offshore accounts to bring all your funds into the United States is a scheme to conceal,” he said.
Beyond a bare-bones acknowledgement of the indictment itself, lawyers at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office have not publicly spoken further about the case.
Downing refused to answer any questions from the press, including shouted queries of “Did [Tony] Podesta get immunity?”
Tony Podesta, powerful Washington lobbyist and brother to John Podesta, chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign, also did work for Yanukovich and his “Party of Regions.” He resigned from his Podesta Group lobbying firm Monday just as Manafort and Gates were being arraigned. The firm is reportedly under investigation by Special Counsel Mueller over FARA violations which may, just as in Manafort’s case, be related to Ukraine and Yanukovych.