WASHINGTON — Although the main criminal charges to come from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election stem from foreign financial dealings, all three men indicted were closely involved with Republican politics.
The charges against Paul Manafort and his longtime aide Rick Gates center on a series of criminal allegations related to their lobbying for a pro-Russia government of Ukraine.
George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to the Trump campaign, has pleaded guilty to lesser charges of lying to the FBI about a conversation with a professor with ties to the Russian government.
Before Manafort became the top strategist in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign between late March and August 2016, he had a storied career in Republican politics.
Manafort, 68, wasa trained as a lawyer and gained prominence rounding up delegates for Gerald Ford at the 1976 Republican convention and helping manage Ronald Reagan’s convention efforts in 1980.
He founded a lobbying firm known as Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, earning a reputation for both his flashy lifestyle and his willingness to take on less-than-savory clients, such as Democratic Republic of Congo’s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
In 1995, Manafort set up a new lobbying firm with Rick Davis, who later helped Manafort establish his political contacts in former Soviet states, including Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Ahkmetov.
As an adviser to Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, Manafort helped the party turn around its reputation as corrupt and under Russian influence, getting Ukraine’s president elected in 2006. Manafort remained an adviser to the Party of Regions until 2014, when it was ousted amid popular protests.
Manafort’s firm also helped the Trump Organization deal with Treasury Department officials regarding casino transactions.
Among Manafort’s longtime friends was Thomas Barrack, who was also personally close with Trump. That connection and Manafort’s perceived skill in Republican Party politics got Manafort his entree into Trump’s campaign.
In August 2016, he was ousted as campaign chairman amid revelations of large payments listed in an alleged ‘‘black book’’ of under-the-table payments by the ousted Ukrainian government.
Gates was Manafort’s deputy, both in the Trump campaign and in Manafort’s work in Ukraine. Now 45, Gates began as an intern at lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, before furthering his career elsewhere.
But after working with another Republican lobbyist, Rick Davis, Gates came back into Manafort’s fold. By the time Davis took a leave from his partnership with Manafort to run John McCain’s presidential campaign, Gates joined Manafort’s new firm, Davis Manafort Inc. and was working with Manafort to drum up business in former Soviet States.
They hit gold in work performed for the Party of Regions, a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, though that work fizzled out in 2014 after Ukraine’s president fled to Russia amid popular protests.
Gates joined Manafort for the Trump campaign, too. When Manafort got booted from the campaign, Gates stayed on in Trump Tower as a Republican National Committee liaison to the campaign.
Gates also took a post with a newly created political nonprofit to support Trump, America First Policies, though he stepped down amid controversy surrounding his and Manafort’s work Deripaska.
Before joining Trump’s campaign, Papadopoulos billed himself as international energy consultant, though he had graduated from DePaul University only in 2009 and was largely unknown in foreign policy circles.
The campaign named him as one of eight foreign policy advisers in March 2016, as it scrambled to develop foreign policy positions. He tried to facilitate contact between Russian government entities and the Trump campaign.
A professor with close ties to the Russian government told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of e-mails,” according to court documents.
Papadopoulos, 30, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about that conversation. The plea represents the most explicit evidence that the Trump campaign was aware that Russian was trying to help it.
The Russian government hacked Democratic accounts and released a trove of embarrassing e-mails related to Clinton’s campaign, but the Trump campaign has denied any knowledge about that.