Robert Mueller
Credit: Medill DC/Flickr

We learned this morning that the indictments issued by Robert Mueller’s grand jury are for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. The ties between these two men date back to 2006 when Gates joined Manafort’s lobbying firm. A quick review of their work together might offer some insight into how this all ties into the Russia/Trump investigation.

Manafort and Gates both worked with a client of their firm, Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Last May, Jeff Horowitz and Chad Day reported this about their early relationship:

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.

Manafort and Gates were involved in various business ventures with Deripaska over the years until one went south.

By 2014, Deripaska had filed a petition in a Cayman Islands court accusing Manafort and Gates of taking $19 million intended for investment then failing to account for the funds or return them.

At one point, Deripaska hired a private investigator to track the two men down and continued his court case at least until August 2015. Then this happened:

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

While Manafort was forced to leave the campaign when his ties to the former Russian-backed leader of Ukraine were revealed, Gates continued to work for the campaign. He is now employed by “Trump whisperer” Tom Barrack and regularly visits the White House with him.

The indictments against Manafort and Gates have been released. They includes charges of conspiracy and money laundering. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti has an informative Twitter thread on the charges.

So far, the White House spin is that none of the charges are related to the campaign. We’ll see how long that holds up. But it’s interesting to note that it’s the best they can do right now, given that a former campaign manager and staffer have just been indicted. Keep in mind that the pressure to flip will be huge on Manafort and Gates due to the fact that Mueller closed the pardon loophole by partnering with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

According to NBC News, the current charges may have been influenced by the fact that there is a statute of limitations at play and that further charges are not precluded. If that is the case, we might not be hearing much more from Mueller for awhile. But stay tuned…the first big shoe just dropped.

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