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Rick Gates, a longtime associate and protege of Paul Manafort, was indicted on criminal charges Monday as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion investigation, capping months of tense political drama and a frenzied weekend of speculation, the New York Times reports.
Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, was also charged. The two men were told to turn themselves in Monday morning after a grand jury indicted them on Friday.
This news sparked a flurry of speculation about the identity of the Mueller target, including whether more than one person would be socked with criminal charges by the special counsel. Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI, was named as special prosecutor after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether anyone in the Donald Trump campaign colluded with Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. The special prosecutor is also probing whether President Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey. Mueller, a Vietnam veteran who served as FBI director under presidents of both political parties, has come under fierce criticism from some conservatives in recent weeks as the investigation appeared close to reaching the charging stage.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. CNN Broke News of the Charges, Setting Up a Long Weekend of Speculation
CNN first reported the news on October 27 that the federal grand jury had approved the first criminal charges in the Mueller probe. According to the CNN report, which didn’t name the targets, “The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.” The nature of the charges were also not reported. Other news outlets then confirmed the CNN account.
That sparked a social media parlor game all weekend about whom Mueller was charging, with people passing around names including former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner; and even Trump’s own son, Donald Trump Jr. Others noted that Mueller is investigating Trump himself, for obstruction of justice. CNN noted that “top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.”
Former Trump adviser Roger Stone was suspended by Twitter after launching into a profanity-laced tirade against CNN hosts in the wake of the news breaking about the indictments. Before he was suspended, Stone had tweeted that he spoke with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort after the CNN story and that Manafort indicated he knew nothing about the special prosecutor’s action.
2. Mueller’s Team Includes Veteran Prosecutors & Lawyers, Although Their Campaign Donations Have Become an Issue
Since being named as special prosecutor in May, Robert Mueller has assembled a team of veteran prosecutors. You can see a list of the lawyers here. They include mostly lawyers with backgrounds in the Justice Department, Solicitor General’s Office, and east coast U.S. Attorney’s offices.
However, some of them have made campaign contributions to Democratic causes in the past, including Hillary Clinton, raising controversy. The Los Angeles Times reported that “at least seven of the 15 lawyers have previously given money to Democrats.”
In June, CNN reported that “three members of the legal team known to have been hired so far by special counsel Robert Mueller to handle the Russia investigation have given political donations almost exclusively to Democrats,” naming Jeannie Rhee, James Quarles, and Andrew Weissmann. That was before most of the lawyers on the team were identified, however. According to CNN, “two of the lawyers gave the maximum $2,700 donation to Hillary Clinton last year.”
Fox News reported in July: “Of the 15 attorneys currently on staff for Mueller, at least seven have donated to Democratic candidates and campaigns, including Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton. The rest have not made political donations, according to federal records.” In addition to the attorneys already named by CNN, Fox News listed Andrew Goldstein, Elizabeth Prelogar, Brandon Van Grack, and Rush Atkinson.
3. Mueller Was Chosen by the Assistant Attorney General After Sessions’ Recusal & Some Conservatives Argue He Has a Conflict of Interest
Mueller was named special prosecutor by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General of the United States. In March, AG Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe after questions were raised about his contacts with Russian officials. Then, some time later, President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, which eventually provoked Rosenstein to name Mueller as special prosecutor to look into the allegations of potential Russian collusion as well as obstruction of justice.
Rosenstein gave Mueller authorities to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly” from the Russia investigation.
President Trump has argued in recent days that there is more evidence showing Hillary Clinton’s campaign colluded with the Russians. “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!” the president wrote on Twitter. The Washington Post reported that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund the research by a former British spy that produced the controversial, salacious, and unverified anti-Trump dossier. The backgrounds of those who provided the information in it – and whether they had Russian government connections – has not been answered. CNN previously reported that the dossier was used, in part, by the FBI and James Comey to obtain a FISA warrant against a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. “The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor a Trump associate,” Page, according to CNN.
“I think this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election, look no further than the Clintons, look no further than the D.N.C.,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News. “Everything that the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. were falsely accusing this President of doing over the past year, they were actually doing themselves.”
Some conservatives have increasingly argued in recent months that Mueller has a conflict of interest because he knows former FBI director James Comey (although they reportedly only had a work rapport) and because he was FBI director during an Obama-era uranium deal that conservatives think should also be investigated. “The Justice Department lifted a gag order that will allow a former FBI informant speak to congressional panels investigating an Obama-era deal in which a Russian-backed company was able to get control of a significant amount of the United States uranium supply,” reported The New York Post. As the Post explained, “Russian energy giant Rosatom acquired Canadian mining company Uranium One, which has a mine in Wyoming, and then was able to get control of 20 percent of America’s uranium stockpile.” The catch, according to The Post, “News reports in 2015 revealed that former President Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 from a Kremlin-linked bank for a 2010 speech and the Clinton Foundation received millions in charitable donations around the time of the Uranium One deal.”
Fox News explained of conservative objection to Mueller: “Hill investigators also are looking into a Russian firm’s uranium deal that was approved by the Obama administration in 2010 despite reports that the FBI – then led by Mueller – had evidence of bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.” The Wall Street Journal called for Mueller to step down because the FBI once considered paying the dossier author. The Journal’s point is that Mueller, as a former FBI director, is too closely tied to the FBI to independently investigate its role in the Russian matters.
According to Raw Story, the average grand jury investigate takes 17 months, but Robert Mueller is known for acting with greater speed.
4. Robert Mueller Served as FBI Director Under Presidents From Both Political Parties
Who is Robert Mueller? According to Biography.com, Mueller served as “director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013.” The site reports that “Robert Swan Mueller III was born on August 7, 1944, in New York City, and grew up outside of Philadelphia. He attended the prestigious St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire, where he captained the soccer, lacrosse and hockey teams, the latter alongside future Secretary of State John Kerry. Mueller followed his father to Princeton, graduating with a bachelor’s in politics in 1966, and earned his master’s in international relations from New York University the following year.”
According to his FBI biography. “Robert Mueller was nominated by President George W. Bush and became the sixth Director of the FBI on September 4, 2001.” Mueller is a Vietnam veteran. After college, “He joined the United States Marine Corps, where he served as an officer for three years, leading a rifle platoon of the Third Marine Division in Vietnam. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals, the Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Following his military service, Mr. Mueller earned a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1973 and served on the Law Review.”
Mueller worked as a lawyer on the west coast at first. “Mr. Mueller worked as a litigator in San Francisco until 1976. He then served for 12 years in United States Attorney’s Offices, first in the Northern District of California in San Francisco, where he rose to be chief of its criminal division. In 1982, he moved to Boston as an Assistant United States Attorney, where he investigated and prosecuted major financial fraud, terrorist, and public corruption cases, as well as narcotics conspiracies and international money launderers,” his FBI bio says.
Mueller also worked as a partner in a Boston law firm, as an assistant AG under AG Richard Thornburgh, and as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington D.C. He also served as U.S. Attorney in San Francisco. Supporters have noted that he served in the administration of both Republican and Democratic presidents, as his tenure as FBI director spanned part of the administration of Barack Obama.
The FBI noted, “As FBI Director for 12 years—he agreed to extend his 10-year term at the request of President Obama—Mueller faced the daunting task of keeping the country safe from terror attacks while maintaining the Bureau’s established crime-fighting role.”
5. The Probe Appeared to Be Focusing on Paul Manafort, At Least in Part
Authorities had previously raided Paul Manafort’s home. “In July, F.B.I. agents staged a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia,” reported The New Yorker.
Manafort’s finances and pre-Trump campaign work in the Ukraine are also receiving scrutiny. “The FBI’s investigation of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, includes a keen focus on a series of suspicious wire transfers in which offshore companies linked to Manafort moved more than $3 million all over the globe between 2012 and 2013,” Buzzfeed reported.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s work in Turkey has also drawn attention. “The former Army general was also paid more than $500,000 in 2016 for lobbying that benefitted the Turkish government and discredited U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen,” reported The New York Daily News. Former CIA Director James Woolsey spoke with FBI agents working for Mueller “regarding allegations that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn discussed a possibly illegal removal of a Turkish cleric from the U.S.”