By Julia Angwin, Cristina Marcos, Anthony Zurcher, Alberto Toscano, Ryan Brown, Dawn Brackett, Diana Trilling and Paola Rosa
The US Department of Justice has made news in recent weeks for two reasons that point to a closer examination of Donald Trump’s administration by special counsel Robert Mueller: the first was the prosecution of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about his contacts with foreign officials trying to get inside the White House; the second was the grand jury’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
It’s unclear when Mueller will begin to bring cases and announce indictments related to the 2016 election, or when the president will fire Mueller if he feels he cannot continue to cooperate. But an announcement of indictments is coming soon.
We can expect that these indictments will concern only foreign officials involved in influencing the election. The indictments will not, for example, concern any relationship between Trump associates and Wikileaks. They may involve efforts to obtain intelligence or infiltrate Trump campaign or transition activities in other ways. The indictments could indicate the existence of other parts of Mueller’s investigation involving links between the Trump campaign and Russia and Trump associates.
Another signal that indictments are coming soon is that Mueller’s investigation of American citizens was expanded. As of 3 August, Mueller’s prosecutors have filed charges against at least 44 Americans who have tried to mislead the investigation. Some of those defendants have been charged with lying to the FBI, some with lying to the grand jury, some with making misleading financial disclosures.
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Some of these charges are very serious. Since the indictment of Manafort on 8 July, seven people have been charged with misleading the FBI.
But some indictments, and some of the charges against American citizens, could represent separate actions unrelated to Russian election interference.
Just because Mueller has filed charges against a number of American citizens is not necessarily an indication that Mueller has any other indictments against Americans. Mueller may simply have been required to look into whether they violated the Espionage Act, in which case that was the case.
The Espionage Act was expanded to cover a wider range of acts that might have been included in earlier indictments.
For example, a former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was charged with making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russian and Turkish officials. As part of the grand jury’s indictment of the 13 Russian intelligence officers who hacked Democrats’ emails, Mueller also indicted the 13 Russian intelligence officers for conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false statements to the FBI in connection with their hacking of the Democrats’ emails.
The Act of 1902, which Mueller cited in his investigation of Flynn, made its first violation a felony punishable by a jail sentence of up to 10 years. But after President Woodrow Wilson signed the Act, he issued an executive order that reduced the maximum sentence to two years.
We can expect that charges will involve financial matters. President Trump is facing at least seven investigations regarding various financial matters, including his business dealings, his financial disclosure forms, his tax returns, and his relationships with Russians.
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These investigations could involve something as simple as an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into Trump’s financial dealings in Russia, to as serious as Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference.
It’s not clear how large Mueller’s investigation will ultimately be. But his investigations are scrutinizing not only Russian election interference, but an area that deeply worries the president, which is his personal financial dealings with Russian figures.