Special counsel probe: Trump appointee withdraws, bail hearing Monday for Manafort, Gates

A former Trump campaign official who has been linked to the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller has withdrawn his nomination for a post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture just before confirmation hearings were to begin.

Sam Clovis said in a letter to President Donald Trump dated Thursday that the political climate in Washington “has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position.”

“The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day,” Clovis wrote. adding he did not want to be a distraction or negative influence.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination.”

This week, it was revealed that Clovis had communications with George Papadopoulos, who has admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries.

Questions have also been raised about Clovis’s qualifications to serve as the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist. He is a self-described skeptic of climate change.

Clovis was a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and a talk show host before he joined the Trump campaign.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the Russia reports raised even more questions about his nomination and that the withdrawal was a “victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research.” 

Bail hearing Monday

Meanwhile, a jdudge in Washington scheduled a bail hearing for Monday for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, stemming from the special counsel investigation.

Manafort, who served for a few months in 2016 as Trump’s election campaign manager, and business associate Gates, face several charges that could lead to several years in prison, including fraud and conspiracy against the U.S.

Manafort

Paul Manafort appeared calm as he left Federal District Court in Washington on Monday, but the charges he faces carry with them maximum sentences that amount to 80 years in prison. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Prosecutors allege Gates and Manafort worked for several years as unregistered agents of the government of Ukraine and the Party of Regions, a pro-Russian political party led by Victor Yanukovych, and then laundered money through overseas accounts they controlled from the millions they amassed.

In a court filing Thursday, attorneys for Manafort defended him as a “successful, international political consultant” who, by nature of his work on behalf of foreign political parties, was necessarily involved in international financial transactions. They said Manafort has done nothing wrong and doesn’t pose a risk of fleeing the country.

Kevin Downing, his attorney, denied that Manafort was involved in any criminal activity related to his Ukrainian work, saying that all funds that went through offshore bank accounts were from “legal sources.”

Foreign agent charges rarely sought in past

Downing said that Manafort was not trying to conceal his assets, noting that prosecutors say funds that originated in the Ukraine and went through Cyprus ultimately arrived in the United States.

“Obviously, international funds entering the U.S. banking system, or going to U.S. vendors, are traceable and subject to U.S. process,” they said. “It goes without saying that in an international scheme to conceal assets, individuals generally move them offshore, not to the United States.”

USA-TRUMP/RUSSIA

Kevin Downing, attorney for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, is seen on Monday. Downing made a brief public statement on that day rejecting the allegations his client faced, and has said in a subsequent filing tax (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The defence lawyers also challenged the inclusion in the indictment of allegations that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department. The Justice Department, they said, has brought only six criminal prosecutions under that statute since 1966 and secured only one conviction during that period.

Gates was also a Trump campaign adviser and stayed on through its duration even after Manafort stepped down in August 2016.

Both men were put under house arrest after posting bail on Monday.

While Mueller’s probe is looking hard at questions over Russian meddling into the 2016 U.S. election and whether Americans colluded with Russia, he is free to pursue criminal charges with respect to any criminal activity uncovered during the course of the investigation.

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