If you had Paul Manafort in the Muellerama sweepstakes, please come to the window to collect your winnings. The New York Times identifies Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates as the two men indicted by a grand jury on Friday, the first defendants in Robert Mueller’s special-counsel probe into Russian influence in the 2016 election. So far the charges are unknown, as is whether anyone else would get indicted soon, if ever:
The charges against Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Mr. Gates, a business associate of Mr. Manafort, were not immediately clear but represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over the president’s first year in office.
Mr. Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show.
Mr. Manafort had been under investigation for violations of federal tax law, money laundering and whether he appropriately disclosed his foreign lobbying.
CNN reported shortly thereafter that Manafort won’t add any more to the drama:
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is turning himself in Monday to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
So far, it’s still not terribly clear why the indictment remained under seal for such a short period of time. Why not just arrest Manafort on Friday, or over the weekend? It’s not as if the grand jury needed more time to issue more indictments; they weren’t at work over the weekend anyway. If the idea was to prevent the indicted from fleeing the US, why give the most obvious choice two days to find a was to slip out of the country?
It wasn’t difficult to predict that Manafort would end up facing an indictment. Based on what we already know, Manafort had appeared to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and not on an incidental basis. The vast amounts of money involved had raised suspicions about Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine, too. Manafort’s status as the most at-risk figure was made pretty clear from the moment that the FBI and Department of Justice launched an armed raid on Manafort’s home three months ago.
What’s not clear is whether any of these charges will have anything to do with the issue of Russian influence in the election. The FARA violations and the tax and money issues preceded the 2016 election, and there hasn’t been any information made public yet that connects those dots back to Mueller’s mission. As special counsel, Mueller has a wide scope to charge and prosecute any crime he uncovers in the course of his investigation — and the DoJ is likely happy to let Mueller deal with the political headache of Manafort anyway. But that doesn’t mean that the indictment of Manafort and Gates has anything to do with Donald Trump or the election, at least not at this time. (Gates also worked on the campaign, but as a lower-level figure, whose most prominent moment was in the Melania Trump plagiarism kerfuffle at the convention.)
It’s possible that Mueller indicted Manafort to squeeze him, and to pressure him into testifying on matters more germane to his investigation. It’s more than possible — it’s almost certainly what an experienced lawman would do with such an inviting target. But don’t forget that Manafort only served as the Trump campaign chair for two months (and for three months prior ran his delegate liaison effort), and that his scope of knowledge on the 2016 election is likely to be less than comprehensive. Two days after a security briefing to Trump in August 2016, Manafort left the campaign, leaving Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon in charge. Manafort might have some knowledge, but if so, Mueller should have been able to get it from other people without having to cut a deal with Manafort.
At least we now know the identity of the first indictees in the Mueller investigation. They may wind up being the only indictees.
Update: Chris Cuomo gives Manafort some serious style points for showing up to the FBI’s office first thing in the morning. Er … what was the alternative — holing himself up in his house and waiting for the next no-knock raid?
Manafort just walked into the FBI field office in D.C., using the front door (via CNN). https://t.co/n8TOn7j8wF
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 30, 2017
Update: We still haven’t seen the indictment, but the Wall Street Journal reports that it’s about tax fraud:
The former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been told to surrender to authorities on charges including tax fraud, according to people familiar with the matter.
That’s not going to move the ball much on supposed Russian collusion if that’s all it is. His choice of attorney suggests that’s the main issue he faces:
Mueller could be using tax fraud charges to pressure Manafort into cooperating on the broader investigation. If Manafort has nothing much to offer, though, he’s going to have a very unpleasant next few years.
Update: Mueller’s office announced that Manafort and Gates face 12 counts, including “conspiracy against the United States” — but only related to money laundering, and all of the crimes alleged took place apart from the elections:
— ABC News (@ABC) October 30, 2017
Here’s the indictment. None of the charges are related to the 2016 election, except to highlight the poor choice made of bringing Manafort into the campaign.