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Manafort, Gates Plead Not Guilty, Placed Under House Arrest

Several hours after they surrendered to the FBI, Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment charging them with making tens of millions of dollars while secretly working for the Ukrainian government and then hiding the money from the U.S. government. They were placed under house after entering their pleas.

According to AP, Trump’s former campaign manager and his “right-hand man” Gates did not speak other than to state their names at the hearing in federal court in Washington, DC. The two former Trump aides are charged with funneling $75 million through offshore shell companies while secretly working with a pro-Russian political party in the Ukraine as well as the country’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. They face up to 20 years in prison on conspiracy to launder money charges, which are the result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Manafort, who joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 resigned last August amid mounting questions into his shady ties to the Ukraine; he was replaced by Steve Bannon.

Days before departing the Trump campaign, the New York Times reported Manafort’s name appeared on a list of “black ledger” accounts kept by Yanukovych.

“The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional,” Manafort said at the time. “It is well known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well. I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also sought to downplay the news during the press briefing, dismissing Papadopoulos as a minor “campaign volunteer” and echoing the president’s line that Manafort and Gates were indicted for activity that occurred before the campaign. “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity,” Sanders said.

Even before the charges were unsealed on Monday morning, White House officials moved to put distance between Trump and his former campaign chairman.

“Whatever happens today with the Mueller investigation, we don't even know that it has anything to do with the campaign, what happens today,” counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told Fox News earlier on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, in a more surprising development, also on Monday the head of the famous, Democrat-leaning lobby organization, the Podesta Group, Tony Podesta - who is brother of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta - announced unexpectedly he would be departing the Podesta Group.

While it is unclear what prompted the departure, now that Ukraine is in everyone's cross-sights, and considering that both Manafort and Gates worked for Podesta at the time when the bulk of their alleged crimes took place, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that next to fall under the microscope would be the Podesta Group, and perhaps - eventually  - the Clinton Foundation whose number 1 donor, as the WSJ disclosed last year, was... Ukraine.