The timeline of events related to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates, and the activities spelled out in Monday's indictment of the two men, may complicate President Trump's efforts to distance himself and the White House from the first criminal charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the possible campaign ties to Russia.
Manafort ran Trump’s presidential campaign from late May until August 2016, when he was fired amid news about his past lobbying work for pro-Russian Ukrainian businessmen. Newt Gingrich, a Trump surrogate, told Sean Hannity in August of that year: "Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this (Trump) campaign to where it is right now." Further, both Manafort and Gates maintained a relationship with Trump long after Manafort’s departure from the campaign.
Most of the charges he faces in the indictment unsealed Monday relate to activities that pre-date his joining the Trump campaign.
On Thursday, White House lawyer Ty Cobb told The New York Times that Trump has “no concerns in terms of any impact, as to what happens to them, on his campaign or on the White House.”
Cobb said: “I think he would be sad for them, as a friend and a former colleague, if the process results in punishment or indictments. But to the extent that that happens, that’s beyond his control.”
Yet Manafort was at the nexus of the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia:
• Shortly after Manafort became campaign chairman in late May 2016, George Papadopoulos of the campaign’s foreign policy team sent him a message that “Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time.” Papdopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about the timing of his meetings with Russians.
• In June, Manafort was among top Trump advisers to meet in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya and an intermediary who promised Donald Trump Jr. information that would incriminate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and "her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," in the words of the intermediary, Rob Goldstone.
• Hours later, Trump publicly promised to reveal "things that have taken place with the Clintons," saying it will be "very informative and "very, very interesting."
• It is during this summer time frame that American spies are collecting information showing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials are discussing how to influence Trump through Manafort and Michael Flynn, who went on to be Trump’s first national security adviser.
• On June 20, 2016, Reuters quoted Sean Spicer, then the communications director for the Republican National Committee, in reference to Manafort’s role in the campaign, as saying “Paul’s in charge.”
• On July 7, in an email, Manafort offered private briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, closely tied with the Kremlin and one of Manafort's clients before the campaign.
• During the GOP convention in mid-July, the Republican National Committee eliminated specific calls to provide arms to Ukraine in its fight with Russia, “after Trump surrogates reportedly intervened,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The platform also weakened language criticizing Russia for intervening in Ukraine. Manafort said the campaign played no role in the decision.
• In late July, Manafort denied in an interview with ABC connections between the campaign and Russia.
• In September, CNN reported that Manafort and Trump continued to talk long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known — until lawyers for both parties insisted they stop.
Manafort has deep ties to Russia.
He is a former adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, former Russia-aligned president of Ukraine who received financial support from Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch and onetime business partner of Manafort. Among other ties, Manafort also represented Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort is also the former business partner of Roger Stone, who was in touch via an intermediary with Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, which published hacked emails of Clinton campaign officials. According to The New York Times, Manafort incurred debts totaling as much as $17 million to pro-Russia interests, including Deripaska.