Robert Mueller may have completed his investigation, but that doesn’t mean every shoe has yet dropped. The Department of Justice unveiled a sealed indictment against Stephen Calk this morning, a former CEO of a bank, as part of their prosecution of Paul Manafort. Prosecutors allege that Calk directed $16 million in loans to Manafort in exchange for consideration of a Cabinet appointment by Trump:
Federal prosecutors in New York on Thursday unsealed an indictment charging the former CEO of a bank with approving loans to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in exchange for an administration position.
The relationship between Manafort and Stephen Calk was a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as far back as early 2018, sources told NBC News at the time.
“As alleged, Stephen M. Calk abused the power entrusted to him as the top official of a federally insured bank by approving millions of dollars in high-risk loans in an effort to secure a personal benefit, namely an appointment as Secretary of the Army or another similarly high-level position in the incoming presidential administration,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
This shoe has been a long time in dropping. Last August, one of Calk’s former employees testified to the scheme during Manafort’s trial in Virginia. Manafort asked for the loans in April 2016, and Dennis Raico testified that he alerted Calk to Manafort’s applications because he knew Calk was interested in politics. Then odd things began to happen:
Raico said that he, Calk, Manafort and others dined together in New York in May 2016, where they discussed politics, loans and other subjects. At the time, Manafort was working on the Trump campaign. During the dinner, Calk and Manafort also talked between themselves, Raico said.
In July 2016, Raico said he had a video conference with Manafort and Manafort’s son-in-law to discuss properties they wanted to finance. The next day, high-level bank officials approved a loan for the two men — a quicker turnaround than Raico had ever seen before, he told the court.
Calk was directly involved in the negotiations, something Raico also had never seen before, he testified. Raico said he sometimes passed messages between Calk and Manafort, which made him uncomfortable.
On Nov. 11, 2016, for example, Raico said Calk called him to say he would “possibly be up for some role in the Trump administration,” and asked Raico if he could inquire about that. The possible roles, Raico said, were treasury secretary, or as the head of Housing and Urban Development. Both are Cabinet-level posts.
Emails show that a few months earlier, Manafort requested Calk’s resume after Calk apparently asked if he could serve in the administration. Calk was named to a panel of Trump’s economic advisers during the campaign, and other evidence introduced in court shows Manafort sought to get Calk’s name on a list of candidates for Army secretary.
Mueller’s interest in Calk began months earlier than that. NBC reported in February 2018 that Mueller’s team had begun looking into Calk’s connections to Manafort, specifically about bribing Manafort to win a presidential appointment. The most curious part of today’s indictment is why it didn’t drop any earlier, especially after Manafort’s trial demonstrated an obvious exposure for Calk.
The second-most curious aspect of the story may be its complete absence from Mueller’s special counsel report. Calk’s name never appears even once in the report, nor does any intimation that Trump was complicit in such a scheme. Indeed, by the time Trump took office Manafort was long gone. However, the indictment shows that Manafort claimed to be “involved directly” with the Trump transition’s political appointment process when Calk asked about it in November, which is why Calk agreed to overrule his bank and restructure Manafort’s loans in his favor. Manafort successfully arranged an interview for the Under Secretary of the Army position for Calk in January 2017, after which Manafort got his second loan.
One has to wonder whether the delay had to do with Mueller’s team trying to press Calk for any link back to the Trump administration. Calk would have plenty of reason to cooperate; he’s facing a potential sentence of 30 years for bribery under 18 USC 215, although under federal sentencing guidelines, he’s more likely to get somewhere between 51 and 63 months. The indictment certainly suggests that Manafort’s influence extended longer than his specific tenure in the campaign. Either Calk refused to help out, or — more likely, considering the omission from Mueller’s report — Calk didn’t have anything interesting to add. The indictment does note that the unnamed transition team official had no knowledge of the financial relationship between Calk and Manafort, a point that the special counsel and DoJ must have spent considerable time and effort to confirm before proceeding with both the indictment and Mueller’s final report.
The Calk indictment looks like nothing more than a curious footnote to Mueller’s investigation. It still raises questions about how many more curious footnotes of a similar nature we can expect to see. And it might answer other questions about why Mueller was so eager to squeeze Manafort in the first place.