If you are curious how a federal prosecutor puts pressure on a criminal suspect, a review of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s activity over the past two weeks should make it clear.
At the beginning of the month, two people faced indictments obtained by Mueller’s team: Paul Manafort, President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner and deputy campaign chairman. Two others, former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, had pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller and were believed to be cooperating with the investigation.
On Feb. 16, the number of indictments ballooned. Thirteen Russians who allegedly associated with the country’s social media efforts to interfere with the 2016 election were indicted by Mueller. Another man, Richard Pinedo, pleaded guilty to identity fraud, having apparently played an unintentional role in the Russian effort.
A week later, Mueller’s team dropped a superseding indictment on Manafort and Gates, adding a slew of new charges focused on financial crimes, bank fraud and income tax fraud among them. We also learned that Mueller’s team had obtained a guilty plea from lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who was linked to Manafort and Gates through their work in Ukraine.
At that point, 19 different people faced or pleaded guilty to more than 100 charges.
This, it seems clear, contributed to Rick Gates’s decision last week to plead guilty to two charges and to cooperate with the investigation. On Tuesday, Mueller’s team dropped the charges against Gates that were in the superseding indictment, another sign that Gates is cooperating to the special counsel’s satisfaction.
Let’s quickly walk through where we are now, compared with where we were last Wednesday.
Manafort still faces 27 charges. There was some confusion Friday when the special counsel announced a new superseding indictment against Manafort that appeared to include five new charges. Those charges, marked with dots above, were not new, though. In the original Gates-Manafort indictment from October, those five charges were leveled against Manafort and Gates together. The new document Friday charges Manafort with those alleged crimes separately.
One of those five that both men had faced — conspiracy against the United States — was one of the two charges to which Gates pleaded guilty last week as part of his deal with Mueller. (We marked that with a dot, too.) The other charge Gates copped to was a “false statement” charge stemming from his misrepresentation of a meeting he had with Manafort and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in 2013. That falsehood was offered Feb. 1 — of this year, as Gates was presumably negotiating with Mueller’s team for a plea deal.
At this point, in other words, only Manafort and the Russians face criminal charges — barring any still-sealed indictments against other individuals that may exist. (We did not know about the original deal with Papadopoulos until nearly a month after he pleaded guilty, for example.) We might expect at some point for Mueller to level charges related to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman in 2016; as with the charges against the alleged Russian social-media trolls, though, that one could fall out of the sky.
The number of charges against Manafort seems to suggest that Mueller would similarly like Trump’s former campaign chairman to cooperate as well. It raises another interesting question: Whom else might Mueller be targeting?