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Russia Investigation: Mueller Brings the First Charges

A little over a week ago the special counsel on the investigation into Russian involvement in our most recent election, Robert Mueller, made his most substantial moves since taking over the probe–he brought the first indictment of the investigation against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort. An indictment isn’t anything near a guilty conviction, it’s more like formally accusing somebody of a crime by allowing a grand jury to approve the charges, however these are big steps in an investigation that has been underway since before President Trump even took office.

The investigation into Russian involvement in the election was first started in July 2016 by then-FBI Director James Comey. However, not long after he was sworn into office, Trump fired Comey and Mueller was appointed as special counsel to handle the investigation Comey had previously been running. The investigation focuses on collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, obstruction of justice by Trump or his associates, and potential financial ties to Russia from Trump and his associates.

As the story has developed the full breadth of the charges leveled against Manafort have been revealed and they are some doozys–including Conspiracy Against the United States. We’ve also learned that George Papadopoulis, former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, has pled guilty to lying to FBI agents. It also seems that there are more charges to come. Let’s look at what the current charges mean and what the future may hold for this investigation.

Paul Manafort Charged With Incitement for Conspiracy Against the United States and More

The charges against Manafort have apparently been a long time in the works, even while Comey oversaw the investigation he had received permission to monitor Manafort’s communications along with another campaign advisor to President Trump. The indictment includes twelve charges against Paul Manafort and another lobbyist who works alongside Manafort named Richard Gates. The charges include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading Foreign Agent Registration Act or FARA (an act requiring people representing foreign governments to register themselves) statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. Since the indictment, Manafort has surrendered himself to authorities.

The accusations revolve around Manafort and Gates working for the interests of Ukraine without notifying the government of this fact between 2006 and 2016, as well as taking and concealing millions of dollars of income because of their work for Ukraine.  They allegedly did this with a large scale laundering operation and using several corporations as a front for their activities.

Under FARA, it is illegal to represent the interests of another country in the U.S via certain “influence activities” and especially lobbying without registering. This registration discloses payments made to a lobbyist, the measures they undertake, who they work for, and more. This is to maintain transparency as to who is acting in who’s interest. However, not only did Manafort not register, when he was questioned about his involvement with Russia in 2016 he responded with fraudulent and misleading information.

MuellerGeorge Papadopoulis Pleads Guilty

Shortly after we learned of the charges against Manafort, we learned that George Papadopoulis had pled guilty of lying to the FBI about his connections to Russian political officials. The details of his plea deal with the FBI investigation have been made public at this point.

The charge Papadopoulis agreed to plead guilty to on October 5th of this year was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001–knowingly or willfully making a fraudulent representation regarding a matter in the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the government. Specifically, he lied to the government about the timing, extent and nature of his relationship with the Russian government–concealing ties to and attempts to foster relationships with Russian political officials.

A violation of 18 U.S.C 1001 typically carries an up to five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to a quarter of a million dollars. However, while the plea deal does require Papadopoulis to attest to the accuracy of facts related to his relationships with Russian officials, it also reduces these penalties substantially. The plea recommends sentencing of zero to six months in prison and a fine of $500 to $9,500–a substantial reduction to say the least.

Based upon the agreed total offense level and the estimated criminal history category set forth above, your client’s estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is zero months to six months’ imprisonment (the “Estimated Guidelines Range”). In addition, the parties agree that, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5El.2, should the Court impose a fine, at Guidelines level 4, the estimated applicable fine range is $500 to $9,500. Your client reserves the right to ask the Court not to impose any applicable fine.

More to Come

The case against Manafort is obviously in extremely early stages. However, the most recent news on Mueller’s investigation indicates there may be even more charges upcoming. Early in Trump’s presidency, Michael T. Flynn resigned after it came to light that he had lied about his communications with Russian government officials. He is apparently under scrutiny from Mueller’s investigation, to the point where they have reportedly gathered enough evidence to bring charges against both him and his son. The charges are related both to his Russian involvement and allegedly accepting money from Turkish officials in exchange for helping with extradition of a Turkish political rival out of the U.S. and back to Turkey. If such an agreement exists, it would obviously be illegal.

Ultimately, it is likely that even the Manafort charges are part of a larger investigation strategy. As with George Papadopoulis, they may be using these charges in the hopes of persuading Manafort to provide more information on any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Either way, it seems likely we’ll see a lot more action in this investigation in the next few months.

Jonathan Lurie

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