WASHINGTON — On a black Monday for Donald Trump’s White House, the special counsel investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump presidential campaign announced the first charges, indicting Trump’s former campaign chairman and revealing how an adviser lied to the FBI about meetings with Russian intermediaries.
The formal charges against a total of three people are the first public demonstration that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team believe they have identified criminal conduct. And they send a warning that individuals in the Trump orbit who do not cooperate with Mueller’s investigators, or who are believed to mislead them during questioning, could also wind up charged and facing years in prison.
Paul Manafort, who steered Trump’s campaign for much of last year, and business associate Rick Gates ended the day under house arrest on charges that they funneled payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their private political work in Ukraine.
George Papadopoulos, also a former campaign adviser, faced further questioning and then sentencing in the first — and so far only — criminal case that links the Trump election effort to the Kremlin.
Manafort and Gates, who pleaded not guilty in federal court, are not charged with any wrongdoing as part of the Trump campaign, and the president immediately sought to distance himself from the allegations. He said on Twitter that the alleged crimes occurred “years ago,” and he insisted anew there was “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia.
Gates personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group. The indictment doesn’t refer to the companies by name, but the fallout at one was swift.
Prominent Washington lobbyist Tony Podesta, a Democrat and brother to John, resigned Monday, seeking to avoid further enmeshing his firm in the controversy, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke anonymously to preserve relationships with former colleagues.
But potentially more perilous for the president was the guilty plea by former adviser Papadopoulos, who admitted in newly unsealed court papers that he was told in April 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked.
Papadopoulos was not charged with having improper communications with Russians but rather with lying to FBI agents when asked about the contacts, suggesting that Mueller — who was appointed in May to lead the Justice Department’s investigation — is prepared to indict for false statements even if the underlying conduct he uncovers might not necessarily be criminal.
The developments, including the unexpected unsealing of a guilty plea, usher Mueller’s investigation into a new, more serious phase. And the revelations in the guilty plea about an adviser’s Russian contacts could complicate the president’s assertions that his campaign never coordinated with the Russian government to tip the 2016 presidential election in his favor, the central issue behind Mueller’s mandate.
Mueller’s investigation has already shadowed the administration for months, with investigators reaching into the White House to demand access to documents and interviews with key current and former officials.
The Papadopoulos plea occurred Oct. 5 but was not unsealed until Monday, creating further woes for an administration that had prepared over the weekend to deflect the Manafort allegations. In court papers, Papadopoulos admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials.
The court filings don’t provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.
Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to the court papers. His lawyers hinted strongly in a statement Monday that their client has more testimony to provide.
There, too, the White House scrambled to contain the potential fallout, with press secretary Sarah Sanders contending that Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign was “extremely limited.” She said “any actions that he took would have been on his own.”
The criminal case against Manafort, who surrendered to the FBI in the morning, had long been expected.
The indictment naming Manafort and Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, lays out 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.
In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.
Outside the courthouse, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing attacked the charges and said “there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.”
Manafort’s indictment doesn’t reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between Russia and campaign aides. But it does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.
Manafort, 68, was fired as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 after word surfaced that he had orchestrated a covert lobbying operation on behalf of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The indictment against Manafort and Gates says the pair had managed a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party.
Specifically, the indictment accuses Manafort of using “his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” That included using offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties in the U.S., some of which the government is trying to seize.
The indictment also cites more than $900,000 in payments to an antique rug store, about $850,000 to a New York men’s clothing store and the purchase of a Mercedes Benz and multiple Range Rovers.
Manafort also had registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for parts of Ukrainian work that occurred in Washington. The filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act came retroactively, a tacit acknowledgment that he operated in Washington in violation of the federal transparency law. The indictment Monday accuses Manafort and Gates of making several false and misleading statements in that FARA filing.
When Stephen Harm bought The Warehouse in 1991, he could have predicted the squeaky doors and creaky floorboards that come with a structure dating back nearly 130 years. The building’s pale-faced tenant, however, was a surprise.
It was 1993 when she made her debut. Harm had recently reopened the three-story brick building at 328 Pearl St., once home to various shops and offices, as a substance-free concert facility for youth. Two bouncers, both intimidating in size and trained in the martial arts, were standing watch near the bathrooms on the second floor. Harm was in an office around the corner when the pair rushed in, their faces drained of color, and pointed to the hall.
“These guys were not scared of anything, they were fearless,” Harm said. “I turned around the corner and there was this floating, white girl — see-through. We followed her around a corner ... and she disappeared.”
The ghostly being wasn’t gone for long, however. During the next two decades, Harm estimates, she has resurfaced a dozen times, usually during bouts of construction, emerging most recently in 2013.
“(It’s when) we’re sanding or doing the floors, big things that make a lot of noise or dust ... as if we’re perhaps disturbing her home,” Harm said. “In your peripheral vision you’ll catch a light, and if you turn around slowly you’ll see a little girl watching you. You can look at her and she’ll look back, but if you go towards her she disappears.”
While Harm “always assumed the paranormal is possible,” he says the appearances were still creepy at first.
“It took the bouncers a while to get back to normal,” Harm said. “Over the years we’ve learned she wasn’t here to be malicious and she knows we’re not here to be malicious. There’s not a terror accompanying it.”
There were hints of something preternatural even before the visits began. One night, a motion detecting security system, installed around 1991, triggered an alarm, but when Harm and his former business partner arrived there was no sign of a break in. The sensors had tracked movement through a sequence of inner rooms connected by doors, but none to the entry or exit. It seemed whatever was moving between those rooms had vanished.
“At that point we assumed it was an anomaly in security,” Harm said.
Harm says seven people have encountered the young girl in the Warehouse, but he was alone both times he felt a mysterious presence.
During each occurrence, Harm was in his third-floor office in the middle of summer, with temperatures in the building hovering around 90 degrees, when a mysterious chill and a sense of “overwhelming terror” rushed over him.
“All of a sudden, goosebumps,” Harm recounted. “Boom! Freezing cold.”
Harm postulates the frigid entity is perhaps a hostile ghost that travels between the series of buildings that share walls with the Warehouse.
The theory of a traveling ghost is perhaps not out of the realm of possibility, given that previous owners and employees of Del’s Bar on Third St. and the Bodega Brew Pub on Fourth St. have reported eerie experiences of their own, from visions to noises, that have become fabled over years of retelling during guided tours of the historic downtown.
The Dark La Crosse Tour, which, oddly enough, is listed as No. 1 on the list of local Haunted Places on ExploreLaCrosse.com, includes a segment on the latter, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former owner who hung himself there in the early 1900s. Del’s Bar and the Bodega are Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, on the Haunted Places list.
The Warehouse is listed No. 2, and even if the current paranormal occupants choose to relocate, Harm’s postmortem intentions should secure the ranking.
“I fully plan to come back and haunt this place,” Harm said.
A La Crosse man acquitted in a fatal stabbing at Kwik Trip in 2013 was arrested late Friday after instigating a fight at a La Crosse Kwik Trip.
Mitrel Anderson, 29, told La Crosse police that a man known as “Authentic” approached him in the parking lot of the gas station at 71 Copeland Ave. about 11:30 p.m. and punched him in the mouth, according to police reports. He rated his pain a 30 on a one to 10 scale, taking into account his emotional pain.
Anderson said the man ducked when he swung back, and then strangled Anderson before Anderson fled in a car driven by girlfriend, 27-year-old Brittany Jones, reports stated. Officers stopped the car minutes later on Second Street.
Anderson encouraged police to review surveillance video, which showed Anderson throwing the first punch. Jones was struck by the unidentified male when she intervened.
When confronted with the video evidence, Anderson told police he was “protecting himself from what he knew was coming,” according to reports.
Anderson and Jones said “Authentic” is related to DeMario Lee, who Anderson stabbed to death on June 2, 2013, inside the men’s restroom at the Cass Street Kwik Trip.
A La Crosse County jury in December 2014 acquitted Anderson of homicide after finding he stabbed Lee in self-defense after a confrontation. He fled after the killing with Jones, who served one year in prison for aiding a felon.
Anderson testified that Lee ambushed, beat and threatened to kill him before Anderson drew his knife and swung at Lee’s head; prosecutors argued that Lee, 24, of Illinois was stabbed as he was leaving the restroom and that Anderson wasn’t justified in using deadly force.
After his acquittal, Anderson accumulated eight criminal cases before a federal grand jury indicted him Sept. 13 for possessing and intending to sell 84 grams of methamphetamine in Trempealeau County in 2016, according to federal court records. He pleaded not guilty to two charges and released from custody on Oct. 6 with conditions.
Anderson, of 403 Jackson St., faces a disorderly conduct charge in his most recent arrest. He was jailed and released to U.S. Marshals. Jones, who lives at the same address, was arrested on a municipal warrant and for driving after revocation.