Unpacking Mueller’s Indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates: This is Just the Beginning

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Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were indicted Monday. The two men turned themselves in to the FBI early Monday morning.  Their surrender marks the first milestone in charges stemming from the probe of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

As many expected, the indictments focus on money. There are a few key pieces of the 31 page indictment that are drawing attention, though, away from the singular crimes committed by Manafort and Gates. The first is the most glaring charge of conspiracy against the United States.

Manafort is also accused of conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, making false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) statements, making false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

While the charges against the two focus mostly on money they brought in from their Ukrainian lobbying efforts, the conspiracy charge implies more than simple tax evasion. One tactic often employed by federal authorities is to hold heavy penalties for tax evasion over the head of someone they want to turn into an informant.

The indictment claims Manafort attempted to hide $75 million in offshore accounts. Manafort is accused of using $18 million of that to maintain his standard of living. Gates stands accused of bringing $3 million back into the country.

“In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts,” the indictment reads.

These crimes have no obvious ties to the Trump campaign, directly, but the time span during which the government says crimes occurred does include the period in which both men worked with the Trump campaign.

Some on the left side of the aisle aren’t pleased at the pace of the investigation and the lack of concrete ties to the Trump campaign in this indictment.

“Even with an accelerating Special Counsel investigation inside the Justice Department, and investigations inside the Republican Congress, we still need an outside, fully independent investigation to expose Russia’s meddling in our election and the involvement of Trump officials,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

“Defending the integrity of our democracy demands that Congress look forward to counter Russian aggression and prevent future meddling with our elections.”

CNN is quoting sources in the White House concerning the President’s reaction to the indictment. “The bad behavior of Manafort/Gates has little to do with the Trump campaign or the Russia investigation,” their source said. “These guys were bad guys when they started, they were bad guys when they left. It has nothing to do with any relationship to Russia.”

Yet the one piece of language that analysts are focusing on is here, in the first count. The phrase “together with others” is the first obvious indication that this charge might build into something larger. Who are the others?

The other implication is that these crimes were continuing while Manafort and Gates were with the Trump campaign team. While the President wants to emphasize that this occurred “years ago,” the reality is some of what’s detailed in the indictment occurred less than two years ago.