Russian meddling, possible collusion and a guilty plea - What's Your Point?

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This week's panel:   Bob Price – Associate Editor Breitbart Texas, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist, Marcus Davis - host of "Sunday Morning Live", Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor, and Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, join Greg Groogan to discuss the FBI investigation into Russian meddling with U.S. elections.

A former senior adviser on President Donald Trump's election campaign pleaded guilty Friday to charges from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. With his plea on federal conspiracy and false-statements charges, Rick Gates became the fifth person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with Trump's campaign.

Here's a look at the four others:

MICHAEL FLYNN

Trump's former national security adviser, a retired general who had led the Defense Intelligence Agency, was the first White House official charged in Mueller's probe. The plea on Dec. 1 to one count of lying to the FBI requires Flynn to cooperate with prosecutors. The favorable deal suggests that prosecutors thought Flynn's cooperation was key to other parts of the probe. Flynn was a national security surrogate during the later parts of the campaign. He was charged with lying about conversations with Russia's ambassador to Washington during the transition.

GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS

Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide whom the White House has described as a low-level volunteer, became a major figure in Mueller's probe when he pleaded guilty on Oct. 30 to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos was arrested in July and has been interviewed repeatedly by authorities, according to court documents. After entering his guilty plea, he was ordered not to contact other Trump officials and prohibited from foreign travel. Papadopoulos, in fact, appears to have been the trigger for the whole investigation. In a conversation with an Australian diplomat, Papadopoulos told him he had learned the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." The conversation was prior to that information becoming public and the diplomat informed U.S. authorities.

RICHARD PINEDO

The California man had the misfortune to unwittingly sell bank accounts to Russians meddling in U.S. elections. Richard "Ricky" Pinedo pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to set up bank accounts that were then used by the Russians. The U.S. government acknowledged that Pinedo did not know that he was dealing with Russians. The plea was announced on the same day that Mueller's office charged 13 Russians, including a businessman close to Vladimir Putin, in an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The federal indictment was the most direct allegation to date of illegal Russian meddling during the campaign.

ALEX VAN DER ZWAAN

The 33-year-old attorney pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his interactions with Gates. Van der Zwaan was fired last year by law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. A Dutch citizen who lives in London, he is the son-in-law of a Russian billionaire. Van der Zwaan admitted to lying to federal investigators while they questioned him about the production of a legal report that Paul Manafort and Gates are accused of secretly funding by funneling $4 million through an offshore account. The charge does not involve election meddling or relate to the Trump campaign's operations.

February 25, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) - Recently filed federal charges against President Donald Trump's ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort could also pose legal and regulatory risks for the banks that loaned him millions of dollars against his New York real estate in recent years.

The most serious exposure may be for a Rhode Island-based bank that employed a "conspirator" in Manafort's scheme to obtain a loan he couldn't afford, according to the 32-count new indictment unsealed this week.

Dubbed "Lender B" in court papers, Citizens Bank not only lent Manafort $3.4 million based off of fraudulent documents but, in another case, appeared to help Manafort avoid being caught by sending back a crudely falsified financial statement that had been sent to them from a Manafort associate, according to federal prosecutors.

"Looks Dr'd," the unnamed banker allegedly wrote. "Can't someone just do a clean excel doc and pdf to me??"

Peter Lugcht, a bank spokesman, declined to acknowledge that Citizens was "Lender B" or answer questions about whether Citizens had reported the alleged loan application fabrications to the government. He also wouldn't say whether it still employed the person identified as a conspirator.

The Associated Press identified "Lender B" and other unidentified banks referenced in court papers by cross-referencing loan amounts and dates described in the indictment with publicly available property records in New York City.

Experts told the AP the bank's behavior as described in the indictment will cause problems for it beyond a possible loss on its loan, drawing scrutiny from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

"I would expect the OCC upon reading this indictment or news accounts of the indictment to immediately launch an investigation of what went on," said Kevin Handly, a banking lawyer and former senior attorney for the Federal Reserve Board.

Details of Manafort's banking habits were laid bare in the court papers filed this week by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor investigating Russian ties to Trump. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other charges.

His longtime deputy, Rick Gates, who was similarly charged with banking violations, tax evasion, unregistered lobbying and other crimes, pleaded guilty Friday and will be cooperating with Mueller's probe.

Along with the prospect that one of Citizens' employees allegedly aided an attempt to commit loan fraud, the details in the indictment indicate the bank failed to heed the results of its basic due diligence, eventually lending Manafort $3.4 million despite twice having reason to be wary of Manafort's creditworthiness, prosecutors said.

In the first case, Citizens noticed that Manafort failed to disclose loans on other properties in New York in his application for a $3.4 million loan, using a condo in Manhattan's trendy SoHo neighborhood as collateral.

That's when Manafort asked Gates to find an insurance broker to hand over an old insurance report that didn't list one of the loans, making it appear as if he didn't have as much debt as he did, according to the indictment.

"Good job on the insurance issues," Manafort wrote to Gates, the court papers show.

In a second instance, Citizens was apparently unwilling to loan Manafort money after noticing $1.5 million on his balance sheet from another account. But the bank's concern was apparently mollified after Manafort and Gates asked their tax accountant to send the bank a back-dated document falsely stating the $1.5 million had been forgiven, court papers show.

In the case involving the "conspirator" at Citizens, it doesn't appear the bank made the $5.5 million loan that Manafort had sought for a property in Brooklyn. In that case, according to court papers, "another conspirator on Manafort's behalf" sent the bank a fake profit-and-loss statement. The person wasn't identified in court papers.

Handly said that bank regulators would likely want to know why a bank hadn't caught on to such a ruse.

"That they could make a loan thinking they had the collateral in place is a failing of the bank's internal operating procedures and controls," he said. "Ordinary due diligence should have uncovered that."

Manafort has properties in Florida, Virginia, Manhattan, Brooklyn and New York's Long Island.

He was represented on multiple real estate transactions named in the indictment by New Jersey lawyer Bruce Baldinger, property records show.

Baldinger was reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2008 for violating attorney conflict-of-interest rules and again in 2013 by the New York for not reporting his past disciplinary history, according to records. He didn't return messages seeking comment.

February 23, 2018

(AP) — A former top adviser to President Donald Trump's election campaign pleaded guilty Friday to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

The plea by Rick Gates was a strong indication that he is planning to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as it continues to probe the Trump campaign, Russian election interference and Gates' longtime business associate, Paul Manafort.

Gates, 45, of Richmond, Virginia, made the plea at the Federal Courthouse in Washington.

A court filing shows Gates admitted to charges accusing him of conspiring against the U.S. government related to fraud and unregistered foreign lobbying as well as lying to federal authorities in a recent interview.

Gates' plea came a day after a federal grand jury in Virginia returned a 32-count indictment against him and Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, accusing them of tax evasion and bank fraud.

The indictment in Virginia was the second round of charges against Gates and against Manafort, who has denied any wrongdoing. The two men were initially charged last October with unregistered lobbying and conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned while working on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

Gates' decision marks the fifth publicly known guilty plea in the special counsel probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign.

The plea also comes quickly on the heels of the stunning indictment last week that laid out a broad operation of election meddling by Russia, which began in 2014, and employed fake social media accounts and on-the-ground politicking to promote Trump's campaign, disparage Hillary Clinton and sow division and discord widely among the U.S. electorate.

The charges to which Gates is pleading guilty don't involve any conduct connected to the Trump campaign. They largely relate to a conspiracy laid out in his indictments, but they do reveal that Gates is accused of lying to the FBI during an interview earlier this month.

The court papers accuse Gates of lying about a March 19, 2013, meeting involving Manafort, a lobbyist and a member of Congress. Gates said the meeting did not include discussion of Ukraine, when in fact prosecutors say it did.

The charges don't name the lobbyist or the lawmaker but filings with the Justice Department show Manafort and lobbyist Vin Weber of Mercury Public Affairs met with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., on that date as part of an effort on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

Gates' lawyers filed a motion this month indicating they had reached "irreconcilable differences" with him. His new lawyer, veteran Washington white-collar attorney Thomas Green, formally took over Thursday. Green did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

As Gates was kept on house arrest, he frequently pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson for leniency to attend sporting events with his four children. His court filings gradually began to show the strain the case was placing on him and his family.

On Thursday night, Gates emailed a brief letter to friends and family, telling them of his decision to plead guilty, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman said.

"It's sad," said Burkman, who had hosted a fundraiser for Gates' legal defense fund.

Also Friday, Gates asked a judge's permission to travel with his children to Boston for spring break so they could "learn about American history in general, and the Revolutionary War in particular."

Depending upon the terms of his plea agreement, Gates could become a key cooperator for Mueller with intimate knowledge of Manafort's years of political consulting work in Ukraine, as well as other events that have sparked the interest of federal investigators.

Gates had access at the highest levels of the campaign at the same time that Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with a team of Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016. He was also in the top ranks of the campaign when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions held a pair of undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

For a few months in 2016, Gates was indispensable to Trump, leading the ground effort to help Trump win the Republican nomination and flying from state to state to secure Republican delegates in a scramble that lasted all the way until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

But his power and influence waned once Trump fired Manafort in August 2016 after The Associated Press disclosed how Gates and Manafort covertly directed a Washington lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

Gates survived his mentor's ouster and worked through the election on Trump's inaugural committee — but among Trump aides he earned the nickname "the walking dead." Gates also worked briefly with the outside political groups supporting Trump's agenda, America First Policies and America First Action, but was pushed out of that job last year.

Gates was working for Tom Barrack, a close friend of Trump's, when he was indicted last October.

 

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