Sputnik spoke to former US diplomat Jim Jatras on the news of the indictment of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, and his former business associate, Rick Gates.
The charges against them include: conspiracy against the United States; conspiracy to launder money; unregistered agent of a foreign principal; false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) statements; false statements and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
According to the indictment, Manafort, who had worked as an advisor to Ukraine's ousted former president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been engaged in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign in the US at the request of Kiev.
He has been accused, together with Rick Gates, of laundering over US$18 million through many US and foreign entities to hide payments from the US authorities, "which was used by him to buy property, goods, and services in the United States," without paying taxes.
Jim Jatras highlights the timing of the charges against Manafort and how it is not so much Manafort, as Trump, that the FBI are interested in discrediting. He also notes the lack of concrete evidence to date implicating Russian collusion, with the latest charges centering around Manafort's business connections with Ukraine.
Sputnik: What's your reaction to the news of Manafort's indictment?
Jim Jatras: Well, there are several things. Actually I'm a little bit surprised that it was Manafort and not Flynn, because going after Manafort runs the risk of implicating the Podesta group — which is the group run by the brother of Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager. Because as far as I know there's nothing about that actually relates to the Russians, it all has to do with Ukraine and former services for the Party of Regions and Viktor Yanukovych.
In the American media they say, 'Oh, this is lobbying on behalf of the Kremlin' and of course, anybody who knows anything about Ukraine knows that this is not the case, that these are very different entities. So it appears that this has something to do with Mr. Manafort's connections to the Party of Regions and that institute they had in Brussels called the European Center for Modern Ukraine. The media are mentioning mail fraud, wire fraud, tax fraud, things of this sort.
Sputnik: Do you think it's possible they could still go after Mike Flynn, after we don't know how many people could be implicated in these charges?
Jim Jatras: He could be — the fact of the matter is the federal authorities in our country today can throw anybody today in jail they want. They simply have to pile on some charges, try to catch you in some inconsistencies and they can bring criminal charges against you. It's generally assumed that this is being done to put the squeeze on somebody else; maybe they want to throw Manafort in jail, but what they really want is for him to divulge some sort of information about the campaign that they think he may be hiding.
Sputnik: This has come at an interesting time has it not, as we've heard that the Democratic Party was behind the dossier against Trump?
Jim Jatras: That's right — that's another interesting question on the timing, because last week was a very bad week for the Democrats — we had three stories that hit them smack in the face. One was the revelation that the Hillary campaign and the DNC had paid for the so-called Steele Dossier about Trump. Two was the Iranian deal that became big news here, and the third thing of course had to do with Podesta's implication with the question of whatever Manafort was doing with the Ukrainians.
And the underlying thing there to keep in mind is this whole business with the so-called Christopher Steele dossier — it's amazing to me how the American media uncritically report across the spectrum — whether it's right, left or centre — that this is information that came straight from the Kremlin. I'd like to know what their evidence for this is other than Mr. Steel's say-so.
As an American I can't help wondering about this Brit — supposedly former spy — somebody with a James Bond license to kill… Hhow do we know that he got this information from the Russians and it wasn't simply made up by people in British intelligence?
Sputnik: Hard evidence of any real collusion is something that's been lacking right the beginning has it not, and do you think we're likely to see it by the end of this investigation, which is something that Russia has been asking for, for some time?
Jim Jatras: I don't know that we will, and the way the American media operates, I don't know if anyone expects them too — it's enough for them to engage in speculation and hyperbole and say Russia this and Russia that — when there is no real Russian connection at all.
And when you raise these points, it only appears in outlets like Sputnik or like RT or in the alternative media like Antiwar.com or Zerohedge, and this is almost like samizdat — it's almost like it doesn't exist here because it's not on CNN or in the mainstream media.