On Friday night, CNN reported that indictments were coming as soon as Monday in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Well, it’s Monday, and multiple indictments have been handed down (for the FAKE NEWS folks, the title photo for this piece is a screenshot of the actual indictment released by the Department of Justice). Manafort is charged on 12 counts and will appear in court at 1:30 EST today. Per the DOJ:
conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
There is no charge in here relating to the Trump campaign, but keep in mind the litany of reports that Mueller is trying to “flip” Manafort. Per Reuters from July 22nd:
U.S. investigators examining money laundering accusations against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort hope to push him to cooperate with their probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said.
“If Mueller’s team can threaten criminal charges against Manafort, they could use that as leverage to convince him to cooperate,” said one of the sources.
The FARA charge got my attention. FARA stands for Foreign Agents Registration Act, and the jist of it is that anyone working on behalf of a foreign power in a “political or quasi-political activity” must formally register as a foreign agent. Former National Security Council Spokesman for Barack Obama, Tommy Vietor, said on Pod Save America a couple months ago that lots of people in Washington D.C. “play fast and loose” with FARA. Violating FARA is a crime that gets punished far less than it gets perpetrated, as Matt Tait, former British spy and current senior cybersecurity fellow at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin put it:
Trump's former deputy campaign manager and Manafort's protégée, Rick Gates, was also charged along with Manafort. They aren't the only ones who are staring down the law today, as former Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos plead guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
This ordeal is about to get a whole lot louder, primarily fueled by President FAKE NEWS! It already began this morning.
The logic in this attack is that the Democrats financed a dossier filled with salacious and unverified rumors about Trump…but never used it during the campaign to try to win. Even by Trump's warped standards, this doesn't make any sense. Something shady happened, otherwise Trump wouldn't have THREE high level campaign managers facing charges for making false statements to federal investigators—with one pleading guilty. Former United States Attorney Preet Bahara believes that Papadopoulos's guilty plea means that he is cooperating with the investigation.
Right now, there is a lot of noise surrounding this investigation, but Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare put where we stand perfectly:
Be patient folks, this is the beginning of a new chapter in this saga.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.