I suspect that many were NOT surprised that Robert Mueller secured indictments against Paul Manafort given (i) the FBI raid on Manafort's home earlier this year, and (ii) Manafort's personification of sleaze and someone for sale to the highest bidder. The only surprise is that nothing in the indictments against Manafort and his cohort Rick Gates appeared directly to Trump campaign efforts to collude with Russia. That cannot be said about the facts behind the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, who had lied to the FBI about his efforts to meet with Russian operatives for the purpose of collusion. Der Trumpenführer, who if he were smart would keep his mouth shut and fingers away from Twitter, has trumpeted that none of the indictments involved collusion, but such is NOT the case with Papadopoulos' guilty plea. A column in the Washington Post authored by a professor who teaches white-collar criminal law looks at this reality. Here are highlights:
[S]pecial counsel Robert S. Mueller III unsealed an indictmenton Monday of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates, who also worked for the campaign. But the stealth bombshell of the day may end up being Mueller’s other announcement, that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about attempts to broker meetings between Russian officials and the campaign. It appears Papadopoulos is cooperating with investigators.These are the first charges brought by Mueller . . . . They represent a major step forward for his probe — and a potentially ominous sign for others who may be in Mueller’s sights.
As the White House already is pointing out, the charges against Manafort and Gates don’t directly relate to the Trump campaign. . . . The bulk of the allegations concern activities that occurred before either man was working for the then-Republican candidate. The word “Trump” doesn’t appear in the indictment.
But this is not particularly surprising. It’s not unusual for prosecutors to build a case against a potential key cooperator involving charges not directly linked to the ultimate matter under investigation. Even unrelated charges give the prosecutor leverage to persuade the defendant to plead guilty, cooperate in the broader investigation, and provide evidence against the “bigger fish” to earn more lenient treatment in his or her own case. And pursuing Manafort makes perfect sense. With his extensive ties to Russia and his key role as chairman of the Trump campaign, Manafort potentially is a linchpin in Mueller’s investigation.
If Manafort were cooperating there typically would not be a grand jury indictment. There would simply be a statement of charges filed by the prosecutor, along with a plea and cooperation agreement.
This is what happened with Papadopoulos, who was not indicted but pleaded guilty under seal pursuant to an agreement with prosecutors. Unlike the charges against Manafort, the charges against Papadopoulos do relate directly to his contacts with Russian officials while working for the campaign. Papadopoulos may already be providing information that goes directly to the heart of Mueller’s investigation.
If those facing potential charges refuse to cooperate, Mueller is not going to dither around for months or simply move on. He will not hesitate to throw the heat where appropriate. By unveiling both of these cases on the same day, prosecutors are making it clear that it’s smarter to be like Papadopoulos: Cut a deal early and cooperate.
For Manafort himself, the indictment dramatically escalates the pressure to cooperate. Previously his own jeopardy may have seemed more theoretical. Now he has been booked on a federal indictment charging him with multiple felonies carrying a maximum potential penalty of 80 years in prison. Of course, he would never actually receive a sentence that severe — but numbers like that tend to focus the mind.
We don’t know yet what other charges (if any) will be coming out of Mueller’s office. But Monday’s news in no way suggests the investigation is drawing to a close. . . . Future indictments and pleas, if any, likely will come on a rolling basis, as the prosecutors build cases against lower-level players, possibly persuade them to cooperate, and move up the ladder to higher-level targets.
Mueller’s investigation continues to proceed aggressively, methodically and relatively rapidly. These charges likely are simply the first salvo. Their echoes will reverberate loudly through the corridors of Washington in the days ahead.
My sincere hope is that as things continue to roll out, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence, and of course Trump, become involved in the collusion efforts and ultimate all are forced out of office. More on the charges against George Papadopoulos can be found here.