Robert Mueller’s Indictments Reveal Who Could Be Charged Next
The day before Halloween (now known as Indictment Day), Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent a clear message to Donald Trump and his associates: this is only the beginning.
While Trump and his propagandists at Fox News wage their desperate disinformation campaign trying to obstruct the Trump-Russia investigation, Mueller has been methodically making moves. It appears “FAKE NEWS” and “Russia Hoax” tweets can’t make this investigation go away.
These first round of indictments should scare Trump and his associates for a few reasons:
- They prove Mueller is very focused on financial crimes
- They signal Mueller is seriously investigating potential collusion
- They send a clear message to Trump’s associates that they will be held accountable for lying to investigators
- They validate months of reporting regarding the Trump-Russia investigation
- It depicts Mueller’s strategy, indicating that he will offer plea deals in exchange for cooperation
- And most importantly, it revealed how silently Mueller has been working and that other Trump associates may have already flipped…
So…What exactly does each charge mean? Who’s next? Will this reach President Trump? I’ll try and answer these questions as best I can giving you the overview of the charges already levied, break them down and outline which of Trump’s associates are most likely to be on the receiving end of said charges, and throw in a quick bonus explainer of Obstruction of Justice and the President’s pardon powers at the end for fun.
Like we do with all our deep dives at Rantt News, I’ll try and make this as digestible as possible while at the same time not missing any crucial context.
Let’s dive in.
Trump’s former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were slapped with a 31-page, 12-count indictment. These counts include laundering $18 million of the $75 million dollars they made acting as unregistered foreign agents while lobbying on behalf of the Government of Ukraine between 2006–2016 and making false statements to the Justice Department. Both Manafort and Gates pled “Not Guilty” to these charges. (Might not be the last we’ve heard from Manafort either. Mueller has reportedly been cooperating with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, so state charges may come as well.)
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indicted on 12 counts 1-Conspiracy Against The U.S. 2-Conspiracy To Launder Money …👇https://t.co/PXNX1VbdUG
This was no surprise. The Trump White House was reportedly relieved at the news and had already revved up their spin machine with talking points. The usual distancing from Manafort, claiming this had nothing to do with Trump, etc. Then came former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea and the revelation that he’s been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation for months. This sent a shockwave through the White House who could no longer say that the charges weren’t related to the campaign.
It also paints the picture that Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI in January of 2017 about his attempts to set up meetings between President Trump, his campaign, and the Russian Government in an attempt to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The indictment details how Papadopoulos told a “Senior Policy Advisor,” “Campaign Supervisor,” and “High-Ranking Campaign Official” about the efforts. We now know who they are…but more on that later.
Mueller’s team gives us insight into what direction this investigation will be moving. The Special Counsel’s office consists of more than three dozen investigators, staffers, and attorneys. These experts include his former partner James Quarles (was an assistant Watergate prosecutor), Andrew Weissman (head of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud unit), and Michael Dreeben (deputy solicitor general) to name a few. Mueller has also reportedly teamed up with the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit, which has 2,500 agents who focus on financial crimes like tax evasion and money laundering. This unit has already handed over records related to Paul Manafort (now indicted) and Michael Flynn (👀).
Along with its counterintelligence component examining Russia’s meddling, this investigation has expanded greatly. It dives into:
- The repeated contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives
- Potential coordination between Trump associates and Russia in the dissemination of anti-Clinton fake news and Russian propaganda
- Potential obstruction of justice on the part of President Trump
- Perhaps most importantly, the investigation has expanded to include potential financial crimes committed by Donald Trump and some of his associates, who have been widely accused of money laundering for Russian oligarchs
Who Does Mueller Have His Sights On Next?
The italicized explanations of the charges are via Lawfare.
Count 1: Conspiracy Against the United States — 18 U.S.C § 371
The indictment specifies that from around 2006 to 2017, Manafort and Gates “knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions” of the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, in reference to counts 3 through 6 and 10 through 12 — with count 11 committed in furtherance of the conspiracy.
It’s important not to conflate this conspiracy charge with potential collusion. For this charge, I won’t break down who could be charged. As it does in the case of Manafort and Gates, this count will likely accompany other indictments received by Trump associates.
Bill Mateja, former prosecutor in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush and now a white-collar defense lawyer, told Time Magazine, “At its core [the conspiracy statute] is an agreement by at least two people to commit a violation of federal law. If you have an agreement…even if it doesn’t go through, it’s just the mere agreement intended to violate the laws of the United States…Everything that relates to them agreeing with one another to violate these statutes can come into evidence.”
Count 2: Conspiracy to Launder Money — 18 U.S.C § 1956 (h)
The second count outlines conspiracies to launder money occurring around or between 2006 and 2016, including the knowing and intentional conspiracy to “transport, transmit, and transfer monetary instruments and funds” through the U.S., from the U.S., and through places outside of the U.S. with the intention to carry out unlawful activity, specifically a felony violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), in violation of Title 22 sections 612 and 618, and Title 18 section 1956(a)(2)(A); and conducting financial transactions in violation of the Internal Revenue Code sections 7201 and 7206 and Title 18 section 1956(a)(1)(A)(ii) and 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). In order to use the money in the offshore accounts without paying taxes on it, Manafort and Gates made over $21,000,000 in wire transfers between 2008 and 2014 from these accounts in exchange for goods, services, and real estates. They did not report these transfers as income.
The Potential Perps:
Donald Trump has long been accused of money laundering for Russian oligarchs. Not only are his tangled web of LLCs a money laundering red flag, his past actions speak for themselves…
- In 2008, Russian oligarch and fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a Trump property for $95 million, double what it was worth, which is a classic money laundering technique meant to bake payments or bribes into what looks like a real estate deal.
- “A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida.”
- The FBI wiretapped offices in Trump Tower, investigating a Russian money laundering group run out of apartment 63A, implicating 30 people and involving assets owned by Trump in New York and Florida.
- Trump’s reportedly has ties to the New York and Philadelphia mob that go back decades.
Felix Sater, a Russian-born Mafia-linked figure, joined Bayrock in 1999. Trump started building Trump SoHo along with Sater and three Russian oligarchs under investigation for money laundering. The project would ultimately start a criminal investigation in 2011, which Trump and his partners settled by refunding over $3 million in down payments on the condos. Trump has repeatedly denied that he knows Sater despite the evidence via email and sworn depositions that he was a close family friend and lived in Trump Tower. Sater is already reportedly cooperating with an international investigation into a money laundering network.
Although there is not as much substantial evidence of money laundering as Felix Sater and Donald Trump, Jared Kushner is one to watch…
- A month before the election, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner finalized a $285 million refinancing loan from Deutsche Bank who at the time “was negotiating to settle a federal mortgage fraud case and charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. The cases were settled in December and January.”
- In December of 2016, Kushner held a meeting with Sergey N. Gorkov who runs VneshEconomBank (VEB), a Russia owned bank that is currently under U.S. sanctions that were put in place in 2014. Gorkov is an FSB Academy graduate (essentially a trained spy) and known as a “Putin crony” in the intelligence community. Once VEB was sanctioned, Putin had to authorize $22 Billion in state funding to cover their debts.
- Kushner clearly has shown no hesitation to working with Russian entities both close to the Kremlin and entities implicated in money-laundering schemes. His large wealth and sprawling businesses would make him a perfect candidate for such a criminal endeavor. Robert Mueller has been probing his business dealings since at least this past Summer.
Counts 3–6: Manafort’s Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts for Calendar Years 2011–2014–31 U.S.C §§ 5314 and 5322(b); 18 U.S.C. § 2
Counts 7–9: Gates’ Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts for Calendar Years 2011–2013–31 U.S.C §§ 5314 and 5322(b); 18 U.S.C. § 2
Counts 3 through 9 address Manafort’s and Gates’s repeated failures to file Department of the Treasury Reports of Foreign Banks and Financial Accounts (FinCEN Form 114 or FBAR). The FBAR report requires those who are subject to U.S. jurisdiction to disclose financial interests in or authority over financial accounts in a foreign country should those accounts have an aggregate value of $10,000 or more. These counts allege that Manafort and Gates failed to file FBAR reports — for four and three consecutive years respectively — while violating “another law of the United States and as part of a pattern of illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period.”
This is where we begin to see that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has either already been charged and is cooperating or will likely be one of Mueller’s next targets. Flynn came on board as Trump’s national security adviser (NSA) in early 2016. He advised Trump throughout the campaign and went on to be Trump’s NSA in the White House. Flynn was forced to resign from his position after he was caught lying about the December 2016 phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak where he discussed easing sanctions on Russia. As we later found out, these weren’t his only contacts with Kislyak or his worst wrongdoing. Flynn received undisclosed payments from Turkey while advising Trump and sat in classified national security briefings as an unregistered foreign agent.
Here are some of his payments:
- Flynn was paid $530,000 as part of a $600,000 contract to lobby for the Turkish government. He then continued to participate in classified briefings and influence Turkey-policy.
- Flynn was paid $11,250 by an American subsidiary of a Russian cyber-security firm called Kaspersky Lab in October of 2015.
- Flynn was paid more than $33,750 by Russia Today for attending their 10th anniversary gala in Moscow in December 2015.
- Flynn was paid $11,250 by Volga-Dnepr Airlines, a Russian cargo plane company, for speaking at an event in August 2015. He did not disclose this payment until his resignation as NSA.
Count 10: Unregistered Agent of a Foreign Principal — 22 U.S.C. §§ 612 and 618(a)(1); 18 U.S.C. § 2
Here, the indictment alleges that both Manafort and Gates knowingly and willfully acted as agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions and Yanukovych, without registering with the Attorney General. Pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Any person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States for a foreign principal is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice.
Count 11: False and Misleading FARA Statements — 22 U.S.C. § 612 and 618(a)(2); 18 U.S.C. § 2
This count draws on Manafort’s and Gates’s FARA filings, highlighting allegedly false statements and omissions of material fact made between Nov. 23, 2016 and Feb. 10, 2017. In June 2017, Manafort retroactively filed FARA registration forms declaring $17.1 million in receipts to DMI.
The Trump transition team was told Michael Flynn may need to register as a foreign agent and it raised no alarms. President Trump and his administration knowingly allowed a foreign agent to participate in meetings where the United State’s most classified national security secrets were discussed. Flynn registered as a foreign agent in 2017, but throughout his time lobbying for Turkey, he did not. Flynn is likely on the hook for this charge as well.
Now, here’s where we talk about Carter Page.
Carter Page was a former adviser to candidate Trump until the Trump campaign distanced themselves from him after his Russia ties were reported on. Page is the founder of Global Energy Capital, an investment firm in New York, where he partnered with Sergei Yatsenk. Yatsenk is a former Gazprom executive, a Kremlin-owned energy company Page did business with during the time he lived in Russia from 2004–2007. Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow (which he now says Sessions was aware of), meeting with a Russian spy in 2013, and admitted communications with Russians during the campaign made him a focus of this investigation.
Page has been a subject of FBI FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) surveillance since 2014, has undergone repeated FBI questioning, and over 10 hours of questioning by congressional investigators this year. The important point about his FISA surveillance is that the FBI obtained the warrant because they believed Carter Page is “an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow.” Given the fact that Manafort and Gates received this charge for “knowingly and willfully acting as agents of the Government of Ukraine,” the likelihood Carter Page could be hit with this charge is high. Could Page already be cooperating? Here are some of the activities that may have contributed to the FBI’s belief he is a foreign agent:
- Page met with Victor Podobnyy, who turned out to be a Russian spy, in 2013.
- Page communicated with Russian operatives during the campaign.
- Russians have reportedly attempted to cultivate Page as a way to infiltrate the Trump campaign.
- Page went on a campaign approved trip to Moscow in July of 2016 to meet with Igor Sechin, the chairman of the Russia State-owned oil company Rosneft, and may have discussed the prospect of lifting sanctions on Russia. This is important because the Christopher Steele dossier (Glenn Simpson recently testified on Capitol Hill on the dossier) mentioned the meeting with Page and “that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate Western sanctions imposed on the company, that they offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft.” Business Insider reports:
Rosneft…ultimately signed a deal that was similar to the one the dossier described: On December 7, the oil company sold 19.5% of shares, worth roughly $11 billion, to the multinational commodity trader Glencore Plc and Qatar’s state-owned wealth fund. Page was back in Moscow on December 8, one day after the deal was signed, to “meet with some of the top managers” of Rosneft, he told reporters at the time.
Could Roger Stone be tied into this as well? Stone, former Trump campaign advisor and longtime confidante, was also a political operative and partner of Paul Manafort since the 80s. Also, Stone has admitted to speaking to Guccifer 2.0, the online persona believed to be a front for Russian intelligence officials and behind the hacks on the DNC. In October 2016, Roger Stone boasted about being in regular contact with Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, through “mutual friends.” This boast appeared to be validated by his eerie knowledge of upcoming Wikileaks concerning Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails. Several months before it occurred, Stone tweeted about an October surprise involving Podesta that would disrupt Clinton’s campaign.
Count 12: False Statements — 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1001(a)
The last count of the indictment alleges that both Manafort and Gates caused another to “falsify, conceal, and cover up” a material fact, to make materially “false, fictitious, and fraudulent” statements, and to make and use the FARA documents submitted to the Department of Justice — to which count 11 referred– while knowing that they contained materially false, fictitious, and statements.
Just as Manafort and Gates were charged with lying to the DOJ, Papadopoulos was hit with lying to the FBI. The indictment claims that Papadopoulos told a “Senior Policy Advisor,” “Campaign Supervisor,” and “High-Ranking Campaign Official” about the efforts. White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sam Clovis (former*, he just resigned after this news) was one the campaign members who told Papadopoulos to pursue a trip and foster ties with the Russian government. Corey Lewandowski and campaign chairman Paul Manafort were also involved in the email exchanges. And now, we’ve learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was made aware of the claims at a meeting with President Trump.
This is where a whole range of folks could be thrown into the mix. We all know that Donald Trump has a non-existent relationship with the truth and many of his associates do as well. We already know that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI this past January about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and many more of Trump’s associates have all been interviewed by investigators. Will they be drawn into this charge too?
Obstruction Of Justice And Presidential Pardons
Obstruction of Justice: “whoever . . . . corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be (guilty of an offense).”
In order to be guilty of obstruction of justice, one doesn’t have to successfully obstruct an investigation. The law clearly states that anyone who “endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be (guilty of an offense).” Robert Mueller has already interviewed former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer. The topic of interest was likely obstruction of justice.
Former FBI Director James Comey’s June 2017 testimony outlined a detailed report of President Trump making multiple attempts to influence the Trump-Russia investigation that is targeting his campaign.
“In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.” — Philip Allen Lacovara, former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski
It’s not just Comey’s account of events that scream obstruction. Trump’s own words add to Robert Mueller’s case.
The day after firing the FBI Director investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. In that meeting, not only did he boast about highly classified intelligence, revealing the location of an Israeli-provided intelligence source critical to the fight against ISIS, Trump appeared to give confirmation that he fired James Comey in an attempt to end the Trump-Russia investigation. The New York Times reported:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
Later that same week, President Trump made a public admission that he fired Comey because of the Trump-Russia investigation. See for yourself.
The Washington Post also reported that in March, “President Trump asked him (Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats) if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe.”
Obstruction of justice was President Richard Nixon’s First Article of Impeachment. These are serious charges, and given the evidence, these charges should be taken seriously.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has his work cut out for him. It’s pretty clear which one of Trump’s associates will be facing criminal indictments. But the question remains, will Trump simply pardon everyone?
When it comes to the question of pardons, it appears that may get tricky in the case of Paul Manafort. Mueller’s cooperation with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is an indication that Manafort may be charged with a state crime on top of his federal crimes. If that’s the case, Manafort can’t be pardoned since a president can’t pardon state-level crimes. If other Trump associates were to be implicated in state-level crimes, the same would apply to them. If the possibility of a presidential pardon were to be off the table, that could make Trump associates more likely to cooperate with investigators.
And when it comes to President Trump, as the law currently stands, the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled that a president can be charged while in office, so in order for Trump to be removed from office, he’d have to either be impeached or the 25th Amendment would have to be invoked. The responsibility would then be in the hands of Republican Congressmen. This is why Trump and the right-wing propaganda’s attempts to discredit Mueller’s investigation are so dangerous.
For example, Fox News Commentator “Judge” Jeanine Pirro called for Mueller’s investigation to be ended and called on Hillary Clinton to be “locked up” for the dossier funding…which wasn’t illegal.
This is crazy even for Fox. Shut down Mueller probe and arrest Hillary. https://t.co/0XMwdNJi0z
The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board even called for Mueller to resign, feeding speculation that Trump may move to fire him. Firing Mueller isn’t that simple of course. Trump would have to order various individuals to fire him, starting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The speculation over whether Mueller would be fired was even further exacerbated by the oddly timed resignation of Virginia U.S. Attorney Dana Boente. (See him on that infographic?) NBC News reported that Boente was “asked to step down to make way for a successor to be named by President Donald Trump.”
If President Trump were to try yet another blatant attempt to obstruct justice, it would test the resilience of our nation and the effectiveness of the rule of law. Will any Republican have the patriotism to protect our democratic institutions or will they allow our nation to stumble towards authoritarianism for the sake of petty partisanship? We’ll soon see who will be remembered in history as a patriot or who will descend into obscurity as yet another partisan tool.
One thing is for certain: If the Republican Party lets President Trump get away with undermining our democracy, the American people won’t.