Mueller poised to reveal new details on Russia probe
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team could reveal tantalizing new details in its investigation into possible Russian collusion on Friday thanks to a pair of court filing deadlines involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former lawyer Michael Cohen.
Mueller’s office has a Friday deadline to explain to the court why it accused Manafort of lying to investigators and breaking his cooperation deal. Separately, the special counsel’s office and federal prosecutors in New York have to provide memos to recommend a sentence for Cohen — filings that are expected to detail how he has cooperated in multiple investigations.
The memos from Mueller come the same week that the special counsel’s office said in court Tuesday that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn provided “substantial assistance” to the special counsel’s office and should not receive jail time.
In addition, former FBI Director James Comey is testifying behind closed doors on Friday before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees for a Republican-led probe into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation. Also Friday, George Papadopoulos — the first person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe — is being released from prison after serving a two-week sentence.
It all adds up to one of the busiest weeks in the 19-month Mueller investigation — and potentially one of the most revealing.
Manafort plea agreement
Manafort’s plea deal was thrown for a loop last week when Mueller’s team accused the ex-Trump campaign chairman of lying to them after he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy crimes and began cooperating with the Russia probe.
The special counsel must now explain exactly why it believes Manafort lied and what he lied about.
The key question is whether Manafort lied about matters related to alleged collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
Manafort has extensive ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians dating back a decade and was in close contact with a Russian-intelligence linked political operative named Konstantin Kilimnik through this year. His years of earning millions from Ukrainian political consulting led to his conviction for tax fraud and banking crimes this summer. Following that conviction, Manafort admitted to several other lobbying and business crimes and agreed to help Mueller.
Manafort lied “on a variety of subject matters” after meeting with them several times, prosecutors alleged in a court filing last week. Manafort has disputed the accusation that he lied.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office has said at least part of the Manafort memo would be made public. Like in Flynn’s case earlier this week, some of it could be sealed if the details would reveal parts of still-ongoing investigations.
Cohen sentencing memo
The special counsel could also reveal new information about its investigation when it provides a memo Friday recommending a sentence for Cohen.
Cohen’s case took a twist last week when he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the extent of talks with Trump involving Trump Tower Moscow, which he had said ended in January 2016. In fact, discussions about the project went as late as June 2016, his plea revealed, and Cohen said in court that he lied “out of loyalty to Individual-1,” a reference to Trump.
Cohen already pleaded guilty earlier this year to eight counts in a separate case from the Manhattan US attorney’s office. As part of his plea deal with that office, Cohen faced a likely sentence of 46 to 63 months in prison, but his newly minted cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors may substantially reduce that.
Cohen, who is set to be sentenced in both the special counsel and Manhattan US attorney cases on December 12, asked a judge last week for no prison time. While he pleaded guilty to tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign-finance violations connected to hush-money payments to women who claimed affairs with Trump, Cohen’s lawyers said has earned leniency because of his cooperation with multiple federal and state investigations.
Cohen’s attorneys wrote that he sat for seven voluntary interviews with the special counsel and continues to make himself available as needed.
His cooperation has sparked a backlash from Trump, who slammed Cohen in a tweet this week and said Cohen should “serve a full and complete sentence.”
Mueller recommends no jail for Flynn
On Tuesday, Mueller’s team released some new details about its investigation when it recommended no jail time for Flynn — but also left a lot to the imagination with lengthy redactions detailing the “substantial assistance” Flynn gave to the Justice Department.
Mueller’s sentencing memo stated that Flynn had been interviewed 19 times, and he provided information for at least three investigations. But details of some of the investigations were completely redacted in the document, beyond stating that one was a “criminal investigation.”
“While this addendum seeks to provide a comprehensive description of the benefit the government has thus far obtained from the defendant’s substantial assistance, some of that benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing,” prosecutors wrote.
Still, prosecutors said Flynn’s early cooperation was “particularly valuable” because of his insight and the fact his cooperation encouraged others to talk as well.
Flynn was Trump’s first national security adviser, but was fired less than a month into his tenure over misleading the White House about his discussions with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in December 2017. He will be sentenced on December 18.