Judge Issues Gag Order in Manafort Case

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told parties, attorneys, and potential witnesses not to make statements to the media or in public settings “that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.” The judge had criticized Manafort’s attorney for speaking to the media outside the courthouse.

The federal judge overseeing the special counsel’s criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort ordered attorneys in the case to stop talking to the press, reports the National Law Journal. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not bar lawyers from talking to the media altogether, but she did order parties, attorneys, and potential witnesses not to make statements to the media or in public settings “that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.”

Jackson said she issued the ruling “in order to safeguard defendants’ rights to a fair trial, and to ensure that the Court has the ability to seat a jury that has not been tainted by pretrial publicity.” At a hearing last week, she criticized Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, for making public statements to the media outside the courthouse after his client’s initial appearance Oct. 30. Downing called the charges against Manafort “ridiculous” and said the indictment against him also showed there was “no evidence” that Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. Manafort and associate, Rick Gates were both indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. A trial is expected next spring.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Manafort, Gates Must Remain Under House Arrest

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Monday she would not make a ruling on release conditions for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe until they reached agreements with prosecutors. Manafort’s lawyers proposed posting $12.5 million worth of assets for his release.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates appeared in federal court to discuss bail but both will remain under house arrest for now, the National Law Journal reports. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to charges in a 12-count indictment. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Monday she would not make a ruling on release conditions for the two men until they reached agreements with prosecutors. Over the weekend, Manafort’s lawyers, Kevin Downing and Tom Zehnle, proposed posting $12.5 million worth of assets for his release, including a home in Florida and two in New York City.

Federal government lawyers questioned Manafort’s valuation of his net worth, saying that no bail agreement could be reached until Manafort was clear about the value of his assets. The government lawyers appeared willing to take a lower bond package worth $10 million, and allowing Manafort to travel to New York and Florida for business reasons. Jackson said the charges against Manafort suggest he’s an expert in international investment and other complex issues, so she’s still concerned about Manafort and Gates’ potential to flee.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Pardons in Probe Could be Impeachable, Expert Says

“If the president … participates in a crime personally,” constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein tells NPR, “and then exercises the pardon power so as to shelter the people who engaged in those crimes … That is an impeachable offense.”

President Trump’s rage over the first indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe provoked speculation that he might seek to abort the investigation by firing Mueller or pardoning defendant Paul Manafort and others as a way of choking off the probe. When a reporter asked if the president would pardon Manafort, Trump said, “Thank you,” ignoring the question entirely. Can serial pardons be a basis for impeachment? NPR explores this question.

The Constitution gives the president the broad power to grant pardons “for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means he can pardon anyone charged with a federal crime and he can’t prevent his own impeachment by pardoning himself. Trump could pardon any of the individuals under scrutiny in the Mueller Russia probe, and that would deprive the special counsel of his leverage, his ability to pressure witnesses to get at the truth. Constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein, author of a new book on impeachment, notes that the Framers of the Constitution discussed whether abuse of the pardon power would be an impeachable offense and James Madison explicitly said it would be. “If the president … participates in a crime personally,” Sunstein says, “and then exercises the pardon power so as to shelter the people who engaged in those crimes … That is an impeachable offense.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

White House Backs Off Attacks Against Mueller

President Trump and his supporters have mostly stopped raising the possibility of firing or defunding special counsel Robert Mueller. An exception is ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who favors a more aggressive approach.

President Trump’s options are limited for ending the Russia probe he wants to see over, Politico reports. Firing special counsel Robert Mueller? That might open up the president to an obstruction of justice charge. Defunding the Russia investigation? Influential Republicans are warning the White House to avoid such a direct attack. Setting up a dueling probe to dig into Democratic scandals? That might distract attention, but it won’t stop Mueller’s wide-ranging probe, which took its first major public step this week with criminal charges against three former Trump campaign aides. “The legal process is working. Just let it work,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Tuesday. “Let Mueller do his job. If he gets off in a ditch and he does something he shouldn’t be doing, then we’ll all comment on it when that happens.”

Despite Trump’s desire to cut the Russia investigations short — and pressure from some allies to do so — the president and his advisers are coming to the realization there isn’t much he can do to derail it. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave reporters a flat “no” when asked whether the president would take aim at Mueller’s budget, as former White House strategist Steve Bannon has suggested. Trump attorneys Ty Cobb, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow and White House chief of staff John Kelly have coached the president to pull back from making explicit attacks against Mueller. “I don’t support any kind of retaliatory action,” Sekulow said. “That’s not the position we’re advocating. We’re cooperating with the special counsel.” Bannon has complained to Trump about that cooperative approach. Describing the White House as being caught by surprise by Monday’s indictments, Bannon suggested it may be time to replace Cobb and Dowd or add another layer of lawyers on top of them.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-Trump Aide Plea Sends A Powerful Signal

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s plea deal with low-level Trump loyalist George Papadopoulos was full of details about the former foreign policy adviser’s email traffic to high-ranking campaign officials about a “request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.”

Beyond the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, special counsel Robert Mueller sent a more powerful signal to others around the president with the public release of a plea deal with low-level loyalist George Papadopoulos, which was full of details about the former foreign policy adviser’s email traffic to high-ranking campaign officials about a “request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump,” Politico reports. “In unsealing it, he knows he’s sending messages to at least three or four other operatives and their lawyers that he’s got somebody in his corner who could be damaging to their interests,” said Randall Samborn, a special counsel in the George W. Bush era. Solomon Wisenberg, also a former special prosecutor, said Mueller’s opening moves demonstrated the probe has been “moving quickly” thanks in part to work he inherited before his appointment. Manafort and Gates are on track for a trial that begins nine to 16 months from now.

President Trump himself reacted to the indictments via his favorite platform: Twitter. There, he riled up his supporters by noting Mueller’s charges involve actions pre-dating the 2016 campaign, all the while turning the tables back on his Democratic nemesis. “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????” Trump posted Monday, adding a few moments later, “…Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” Former prosecutors said Mueller made a smart strategic decision by waiting until Monday to release the Papadopoulos plea, which signals legal exposure to anyone who was in contact with the foreign policy aide during the campaign as well as people who were in touch with him in more recent months without knowing he was cooperating with investigators.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Is Russia Plea Deal Bad News For Sessions?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly testified to the Senate that he knows nothing about any collusion with the Russians. The guilty plea of Georege Papadopoulos plea shows that Sessions — then acting as Trump’s top foreign policy adviser — was in a March 31, 2016, meeting with Trump, at which Papadopoulos explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”

The unsealing of a false-statements plea deal by campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos may involve someone not named explicitly in either indictment: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, The Intercept reports. That’s because Sessions has repeatedly testified to the Senate that he knows nothing about any collusion with the Russians. The Papadopoulos plea shows that Sessions — then acting as Trump’s top foreign policy adviser — was in a March 31, 2016, meeting with Trump, at which Papadopoulos explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.” It also shows that Papadopoulos kept campaign officials in the loop on his efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, though they secretly determined that the meeting “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal,” itself a sign the campaign was trying to hide its efforts to make nice with the Russians.

Papadopoulos also learned, on April 26, that the Russians “have dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” A key part of Papadopoulos’s cooperation must pertain to what he told the Trump campaign about these emails. According to his complaint, he originally claimed he hadn’t told anyone on the campaign about the dirt on Clinton because he didn’t know if it was real. As his plea makes clear, after being arrested, he “met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Manafort Indicted in Mueller Probe, Surrenders

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, turned himself in Monday to the FBI after Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller asked a grand jury to indict him, CNN reports. Manafort was indicted under seal on Friday along with Rick Gates, who also worked on Trump’s campaign. The specific charges were not immediately known.  

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, turned himself in Monday to the FBI, CNN reports. Manafort was indicted under seal on Friday, along with Rick Gates, who also worked on Trump’s campaign. Gates is a longtime business associate of Manafort. The indictment is expected to be unsealed later Monday. The specific charges were not immediately known. The indictment signals a dramatic new phase of special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation into possible collusion between the Russian government and members of Trump’s team as well as potential obstruction of justice and financial crimes.

Manafort, whose work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has attracted scrutiny from federal investigators, has denied financial wrongdoing regarding his Ukraine-related payments, his bank accounts in offshore tax shelters, and various real-estate transactions over the years. He is the first person in Trump’s orbit charged in the special counsel investigation. Mueller has taken a broad approach to his mandate that includes a focus on the financial dealings of Trump’s team. The FBI in July executed a no-knock search warrant with guns drawn at Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Va., seizing financial and tax documents, including some that had already been provided to congressional investigators.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Mueller May Be Focusing on Money Laundering

“They’re looking for ties, they’re looking for relationships, and a lot of that will come down to money trails,” said Jennifer Rodgers of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School. When it comes to chargeable offenses Mueller could be zeroing in on, money laundering is at the top of the list.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein handed over the reins of the Justice Department’s Russia investigation to a special consel, he gave Robert Mueller the authority to look into “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” It has become clear that Mueller intends to use that clause to follow the money, NPR reports. The former FBI director has assembled a team of lawyers, many of whom specialize in white collar law and financial crimes, leading to speculation that he is diving into the finances of those on the inner and outer orbit of the Trump campaign.

“They’re looking for ties, they’re looking for relationships, and a lot of that will come down to money trails,” said Jennifer Rodgers of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School. When it comes to chargeable offenses Mueller could be zeroing in on, money laundering is at the top of the list. “Essentially, with any crime that generates money, the criminal needs to launder the money in order to use it,” says Stefanie Ostfeld of the U.S. office for Global Witness, a nonprofit focused on exposing economic networks that breed corruption. “The issue with money laundering is it tends to take two to money launder: You have the criminal who committed the original crime, but then you also have the bank, the lawyer, the accountant that actually moved the money into the financial system.” The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that between 2 percent and 5 percent of global gross domestic product is laundered each year. Even if you take the lowest end of that guess, it’s around $800 billion.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Friends Say Trump Should Attack Mueller More

Some supporters of President Trump say his lawyers are naive to the existential threat facing the president, the Associated Press reports. Allies see the conciliatory path as risky to the maverick president’s tenure, they tell the Associated Press.

Even as President Trump’s advisers encourage him to accept the realities of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, friends and allies are pushing Trump to fight back, citing concerns that his lawyers are naive to the existential threat facing the president, the Associated Press reports. Trump supporters inside and outside the White House see the conciliatory path as risky to the maverick president’s tenure. They want the street-fighting tweeter to criticize Mueller with abandon. The struggle between supporters of the legal team’s steady, cooperative approach, and the band of Trump loyalists who yearn for a fight comes as the Mueller probe “begins lapping at the door of the Oval Office,” AP says. Mueller, who is investigating the firing of former FBI director James Comey and other key actions of the Trump administration, has signaled that his team intends to interview many current and former White House officials in the coming weeks and has requested large batches of documents from the executive branch.

Trump could return to fighting Mueller at any moment, say Trump allies, advisers and former campaign aides. Officially, “The president respects what Bob Mueller is doing and has fully cooperated and asked everyone around him to fully cooperate with Bob,” said Trump’s attorney, John Dowd. “And as a result,” he added, there has been for months “a very productive, professional relationship.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Russia Investigations May Take a Year to Finish

It seems like probes by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees have gone on for a while but the Watergate probe took 20 months and Bill Clinton was investigated for five years.

It’s likely to be a long time before the Russia investigations in Congress and in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are concluded, reports USA Today. The constant stream of news about witnesses, subpoenas and closed-door testimony makes it feel like the probes have been going on forever, but Mueller has been working only for four and a half months and the three congressional committees conducting inquiries didn’t start digging in until spring. That’s not long when you consider that the Watergate investigation of Richard Nixon took about 20 months and the Whitewater investigation of Bill Clinton, which morphed into the Monica Lewinsky case, spanned about five years. Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore School of Law, who worked on the House Iran-Contra Committee’s investigation of the Reagan administration, said, “The 24-hour news cycle means that speculation outruns the actual investigation and demands responses.”

Tiefer estimated that it could take Congress until spring and Mueller about a year to begin to show initial results, such as preliminary reports from the committees or the first round of indictments from the special counsel. Mueller, the Senate and House Intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Richard Ben-Veniste, who worked in the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and was chief minority counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, said the Russia probe and Watergate are “roughly comparable in terms of the complexity.” Bruce Udolf, a criminal defense attorney in Florida who worked on the Whitewater case, believes Mueller is “moving at lightning speed” in putting together a team of investigators and questioning witnesses. He said, “I would be surprised if it was completed in less than a year.”

from https://thecrimereport.org