In Russia probe, Mueller's first charges
a show of force
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[October 31, 2017]
By Karen Freifeld, Jeff Mason and Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - President
Donald Trump brushed off the first indictments in the probe of his
campaign’s ties to Russian election meddling, but the charges sent a
clear signal to the White House and other Trump associates: Robert
Mueller means business.
By going after Trump’s campaign manager and another aide on
money-laundering charges and securing a guilty plea from a third
campaign adviser, the special prosecutor showed he would delve deeply
into the past in search of criminal activity and use his broad powers
That left some Trump associates worried about what or whom Mueller would
target next, despite the White House's public dismissal of the
developments as unrelated to the president and his campaign.
“They’re flexing their muscles for anybody that they approach in this
investigation and letting them know we really mean it," said former
federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter. “So if we come to you, you should
talk to us. Manafort didn’t and look what happened to him.”
Manafort and Rick Gates are charged with money laundering, tax fraud,
conspiracy to defraud the United States, and other counts. They pleaded
not guilty on Monday.
The indictments, which closely detail the alleged crimes, appeared to be
an opening salvo from Mueller.
He was appointed by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May
after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had led an investigation
into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the
Mueller was given a mandate to probe potential collusion and “any
matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and at times described the
investigation as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."
Russia has denied interfering with the 2016 election.
With the first indictments on Monday, Mueller showed he was not afraid
to use his powers, and Trump officials noticed.
"One thing I'm worried about in a bigger scale is that Rosenstein, by
giving Mueller this wide berth, has created this monster," said one
former White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A former Trump campaign adviser fretted that the probe could, as a
result, touch on Trump's businesses, too.
In a New York Times interview in July, Trump indicated that Mueller
would be crossing a red line if he investigated Trump’s family business.
Legal experts said Mueller would not be swayed by Trump's view of the
proper scope of the investigation.
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the House
Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20,
2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
“I don’t think prosecutors concern themselves with what politicians say
about red lines being drawn,” said former federal prosecutor Robert
Jens David Ohlin, a professor of criminal law at Cornell Law School,
said Mueller could be targeting alleged financial crimes by Manafort
and Gates to gain their cooperation and uncover wrongdoing
A number of lawyers said the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos,
announced by Mueller's team on Monday, could ultimately provide a
closer link to the campaign and pressure others to open up.
While the charges against Manafort and Gates were not related to
their campaign work, Papadopoulos admitted he lied to the Federal
Bureau of Investigation about his contacts with foreign nationals he
believed to be tied to the Russian government while he was a
Prosecutors said they arrested Papadopoulos in July and that he was
cooperating with the government.
"God knows what this guy's going to say now," said the former Trump
campaign adviser. "Since he's cooperating, he could set any perjury
traps up for others."
Cotter said Mueller's unveiling of Papadopoulos' guilty plea
"was to head off any arguments that the case against Manafort and
Gates is not about Russia."
Frank Montoya, a former senior FBI agent, said Manafort's indictment
and Papadopoulos' plea indicated Mueller was not going to bow to
White House pressure and would keep pushing hard to uncover
"It is pretty much a road map – we are going to be looking at the
money laundering, we are going to be looking at the failure to
report income, we are going to be looking at the general criminal
conspiracies. This is also about Trump’s red line – we are going to
cross it. And we are going to keep looking at the so-called
collusion, or the coordination with the Russians to undermine
democracy,” Montoya said.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Jeff Mason in Washington and Jan
Wolfe in New York; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne and Brendan
Pierson; Writing by Anthony Lin and Jeff Mason; Editing by Noeleen
Walder and Peter Cooney)
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