A grand jury has approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller last Friday, Oct. 27. On Monday, Oct. 30, news broke that the first round of indictments were filed. The indicted were Paul Manafort, President Donald J. Trump’s former campaign manager, and Richard Gates, Manafort’s former business associate. Their indictments were for 12 counts relating to money laundering, tax evasion, and foreign lobbying.
The Quaker Campus sat down with Visiting Assistant Professor Andrew Dzeguze to learn more about the significance of these indictments, as well as George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea of making false statements to the FBI. Dzeguze is teaching four classes this semester: Introduction to Political Science, President and Congress, American Constitutional Law, and American Government and Politics.
Essentially, an indictment is required by federal courts “under the 5th Amendment to the Constitution … [and] the prosecutor is required to get an indictment to initiate charges,” Dzeguze explained. Additionally, he said, “an indictment is a finding by a grand jury that there is sufficient evidence, that if you went to trial, that could support a finding of guilt against the people named in the indictment.”
What the indictments of Manafort and Gates suggest is that Mueller sees his task very broadly and these specific charges do not directly relate to the campaign, but they are a way for Mueller to send a message to other potential targets, as well as Manafort and Gates themselves. Specifically, because this is the first round of indictments in Mueller’s investigation, “the nature of the people that he is going after [Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman] suggests that he is looking for evidence at the highest levels, and it is probably not the end of it by any stretch,” according to Dzeguze. However, the charges “are the least directly relevant to the question of Russian interference,” which suggests that this is a “way for Mueller to create leverage with Manafort and Gates, as well as others … to get them to cooperate with the investigation.”
The charges involve Manafort’s dealings in the Ukraine — which there have been rumors about for years — but it is the first time that there is evidence to prove those dealings.
Robert Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. While the indictments do send a signal that Mueller is casting his net far and wide in terms of possible collusion, they do not have a direct connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. Manafort’s indictment is the first for a president’s former campaign chairman that has been indicted since John N. Mitchell during the Watergate scandal that plagued Richard Nixon’s presidency.
After the story broke, Trump, in a series of tweets in response to the news, wrote that there was “no collusion” and attempted to dismiss the relevance of the indictments. Additionally, he tweeted that the “fake news” was working overtime in pushing this story. He also expressed his belief that the biggest news story of the day had to deal with Tony Podesta, John Podesta’s brother who served as Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, steppng down from the Podesta Group. Podesta is stepping down after Mueller’s investigation into Manafort’s dealings with the Ukraine revealed connections to the Podesta Group.
As Trump was tweeting that there was, in fact, no collusion, more news broke on Monday afternoon that a former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts in Russia. Papadopoulos was arrested in late July, although the case remained sealed until Monday.
It has been reported that Papadopoulos has been cooperating with the special counsel investigation since his arrest in the summer, which is a significant revelation as it suggests that the case was most likely kept sealed so as not to tip off potential targets of the investigation. Dzeguze said that there are two purposes to sealing a case, “the first being to protect the reputation of the person(s) involved, and the second being [that]they don’t want the information’s release to tip off other potential targets.” The latter is more probable in the case of Papadopoulos, as it seems that Mueller wanted to keep Papadopoulos’ arrest secret so that it wouldn’t interfere with his ability to provide information to investigators.
CNN reported that Papadopoulos’ guilty plea holds more significance for Trump than the Manafort and Gates’ indictments. Dzeguze shared with the QC that that piece strikes him as fairly accurate, since the Papadopoulos case is the one that “deals directly with issues of collusion.” Further, the most important piece of information coming out of the Papadopoulos story is that the information he lied about to the FBI deals with a meeting with someone referred to as “The Professor.” He told FBI investigators that The Professor only met with him prior to beginning work for the Trump campaign, but it turns out that he met with The Professor during his time with the Trump campaign, and it was only because of those connections that The Professor sought out a meeting with Papadopoulos in the first place.
Even more significant than this, however, is that the meeting about Russian officials’ claims that they had thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton that contained damaging information. As Dzeguze explained, “the most significant aspect of it is that it says that the Trump campaign was aware of Russian attempts to influence the election at a time when that information was not publically known … [Additionally,] their response was to pursue a relationship with the Russian government instead of disclosing it to the American government.” The meeting took place prior to the Wikileaks release of DNC emails, and points to many possible scenarios that could have transpired between the Papadopoulos meeting and the Wikileaks release.
The indictments of Manafort and Gates, as well as Papadopoulos’ guilty plea, were significant developments in the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. It will be interesting to see how the rest of this story unfolds in the coming months, as Robert Mueller continues his investigation.