RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This morning, President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort surrendered himself to an FBI field office in Washington, D.C. This follows charges laid against him by the Mueller investigation looking into Russian interference in last year's elections. A business associate of Manafort's, a man named Rick Gates, has also been charged. In August of this year, President Trump downplayed Manafort's importance to his campaign.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know Mr. Manafort - haven't spoken to him in a long time but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time - relatively short period of time. But I've always known him to be a good man.
MARTIN: For more, we are joined in the studio by NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, what more can you tell us about the indictments against Manafort and Gates?
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, Manafort and Gates, according to the indictment, used a kind of extensive network of offshore bank accounts to protect tens of millions of dollars of money that they had earned doing work in Ukraine for a pro-Russian party run by what is now the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
MARTIN: Someone who was friendly towards the Russian regime?
LUCAS: Exactly. In total, according to the indictment, more than $75 million flowed through these accounts. The indictment alleges that Manafort laundered more than $18 million to conceal it from the U.S. government. And in fact, the indictment has three pages of shell companies and business entities that Manafort and Gates allegedly used to protect this money from tax authorities in the U.S.
MARTIN: What exactly are the charges?
LUCAS: There are 12 counts in total. The first one is conspiracy against the U.S. There's also conspiracy to launder money, false statements to federal agents. In total, it's a - I mean, it's a 31-page indictment. This is a hefty tone.
MARTIN: So conspiracy against the United States. That's going to catch a lot of listeners' ears. That seems like a significant charge.
LUCAS: It's a significant charge, but it's not what a lot of listeners may think. This is not about collusion or coordination with the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the 2016 race. The conspiracy is to basically defraud the U.S. of millions of dollars in tax earnings and so forth. It is not - it is not - I must repeat - about collusion at this point.
MARTIN: Because we should point out Robert Mueller has made clear that his investigation has a broad mandate. While the central question may have been are there, were there any possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, he could look at a variety of different lines of questioning. That's what we're seeing today in Paul Manafort and his connections to Ukraine and enhancing his own personal finances.
LUCAS: Right. Mueller can look into anything that arises through the course of his investigation. And it's worth noting that a lot of the stuff in the indictment dates back a decade or so. This is not stuff that's tied directly to 2016. But Mueller has the authority, as you said, to kind of cast his net far and wide. And, you know, we'll see whether this is part of, you know, Mueller's attempt to kind of move higher up the food chain within the Trump orbit or it may be that this is what he has and he wanted to nail somebody down.
MARTIN: Even if these are charges that stem from behavior and activities that dated a long time back, this was still the person who was at the top of the Trump food chain, so to speak - the campaign manager for months during the campaign. Has the White House given any response yet this morning?
LUCAS: There has been no word from the White House this morning. However, President Trump over the weekend did fire off a series of tweets after news broke on Friday that there might indeed be an indictment in the offing. And he basically lashed out and said that, you know, people need to look more closely at what Hillary Clinton has done, at her emails, a number of other issues that he brought up. His lawyer said that it wasn't directly related to a looming Mueller indictment, but the timing is interesting.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Ryan Lucas, again covering the news that Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for President Trump, has been indicted. Thanks so much for your time this morning, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.