Mueller Probe At a Glance
George Papadopoulos (Pleaded Guilty)
Pleaded guilty to: Making False Statements
Brief summary: Papadopoulos was named one of five National Security Advisors. He told the Trump campaign that he had extensive contacts in Russia. On April 26, 2016, he learned from a foreign professor with Moscow ties that the Russians had “dirt” on HRC in the form of stolen emails. That next day, he passed that information to the Trump campaign. From May – August he tried to set up an “off the record” meeting between Trump and Putin. The meeting never happened.
Why this matters: The Trump campaign knew that the Kremlin had stolen emails before others in the United States. The Trump campaign was at best, failing to discourage, and at worst, encouraging the creation of ties to Russia.
Others unnamed in the indictment: Supervisory Trump Campaign Official, High Ranking Trump Campaign Official, Senior Policy Trump Advisor.
Michael Flynn (Pleaded Guilty)
Pleaded guilty to: Making False Statements
Brief Summary: Obama signed an order sanctioning the Russians for election meddling. Flynn was instructed by an “official” of the Trump campaign (who evidently consulted with other top campaign officials) to secretly contact the Russians and ask them not to react to the sanctions. Trump still has not enforced the sanctions.
[Others unnamed in the Indictment: Presidential Transition Team Official]
Why it matters: Obama was president, so conducting foreign policy was a violation of the Logan Act. Moreover, the question raised is whether there was a quid pro quo— help from the Russians in exchange for not imposing sanctions.
Rick Gates (Pleaded Guilty)
Brief Summary: Laundered tens of millions of dollars, hid tens of millions in off shore accounts, and repeatedly defrauded United States agencies. Crimes were committed through 2017–meaning while Gates helped lead the Trump campaign and transition.
Why this matters: Demonstrates a large-scale criminal operation carried out by high ranking members of Trump’s campaign and transition, including strong ties to pro-Putin operators.
Paul Manaford and Rick Gates (32-Count Indictment)
Summary of financial crimes: Basically, from 2006 – 2017, Manaford and Gates were cheating and committing fraud left and right, raking in millions of illegal dollars, laundering “dirty” money, which they hid from the IRS. Financial crimes were money laundering, bank fraud, and tax evasion.
Unregistered Agent of a Foreign Government, failing to disclose that between 2008-2014, they were foreign agents (people who are working on behalf of a foreign government — i.e. spies)
Conspiracy against the United States (impeding lawful government functions, i.e. tax collecting and regulating foreign agents).
Why it matters: Fraud and other crimes occurred through January 2017; Pro-Putin Ukrainian “agents’ managing Trump’s campaign. Trump hired people with long criminal histories. (Manaford left the campaign in July, but Gates remained through January). Thus, while heading the Trump campaign they were defrauding the U.S. and others out of tens of millions of dollars: $75 million through Manaford’s offshore accounts. $30 million laundered.
13 Russian Nationals and 3 Russian Companies (2 Count)
Charges are related to a Russian propaganda efforts began in 2014 designed to interfere with the 2016 campaign. Defendants stole American identities, posed as real Americans, and used computers based partly in the United States. Their goal was to sow discord and division, employing hundreds of individuals. By 2016, they had a monthly budget of over a million dollars. They conducted “information warfare” and wanted to “spread distrust . . . in the political system in general.” While the primary goal was to denigrate Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. they also denigrated Marco Rubio, and supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.
Important: D’s and co-conspirators received substantial help from a person associated with a “grassroots” Texas-based organization. The indictment does not say the person was an “unwitting” co-conspirator–which strongly implies (but doesn’t conclusively say) that an American knowingly helped them.
Why it matters: Demonstrates a sweeping, well organized, and well financed Russian conspiracy to spread disinformation and sway the 2016 presidential election,
Alex van de Zwaag (Pleaded Guilty)
Pleaded guilty to: Making False Statements
Brief Summary: Lied about the fact that, on September 16, 2016, he had communications with Gates and Person A regarding a report prepared by his law firm about the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko.
Why this matters: Gates was highly placed on the Trump campaign. His law firm was doing pro-Russia work in the Ukraine. Gates is alleged to be a foreign agent for the Kremlin. In other words, “foreign agents” (i.e. Russian spies) were running the Trump campaign.
[Others unnamed in the indictment: Person A, who is a business associate in the Ukraine ]
Richard Pinedo (Pleaded Guilty)
Pleaded guilty to: Identity Fraud
Brief Summary: Pled guilty to an identity theft charge. Sold bank hundreds of account numbers created with stolen identities to the Russians.
Why this matters: By selling false identifications to the Russians, Pinedo was aiding the Russians in their quest to interfere in the 2016 election.
Can Trump just pardon himself (and everyone else)?
Short answer: No.
Article II (defining presidential powers) Section 1, Clause 1 gives the president broad powers to pardon: “The President shall . . . have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
So far in our nation’s history, no president has ever tried to pardon himself, a co-conspirator, or someone who committed crimes while working in the White House or for that particular president’s campaign.
This means that the Supreme Court has never been called upon to decide the limits and extent of this pardon power.
The moment Trump tries to pardon himself (or any possible witnesses against him in the Russia Probe), his pardon will be challenged in court, and, because of the importance, will ultimately go to the Supreme Court (unless the Supreme Court wants to let a court ruling stand, in which case the the SC will decline to take the case).
Argument in favor of Trump being allowed to pardon himself or anyone he wants
A person might try to say this: The Constitution says he has broad powers. Nothing in the Constitution specifically says he doesn’t. The Founding Fathers debated the issue, gave the president broad power to pardon, so that’s the end of the story.
I was unable to find any reputable law professors–even on the extreme far right, which is ideologically aligned with authoritarian rulers and a police state–willing to argue that Trump can pardon himself
The most reputable of the conservative lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, will not even go so far. He believes Trump will not try to pardon himself because it would be political suicide, but concludes that there are (implied, but real) Constitutional limits the presidential pardon.
Argument against Trump being allowed to pardon himself or anyone he wants
The Constitution must be read as a whole. An fundamental principle guiding the Constitution is separation of powers. Allowing the president to pardon himself allows him to be a judge in his own case, which violates the separation of powers.
Moreover, allowing a president to commit crimes and pardon himself undercuts another fundamental principle guiding the Constitution: No more monarchs. The Founding Fathers did not want a king, and allowing a president to commit crimes and escape justice creates an absolute ruler.
Why are you omitting so many widely known facts from your summary?
In the world of appellate advocacy, where I have lived for many years, a “fact” is whatever a court finds to be true. This is often frustrating to people who lose in court. All the facts against them are deemed true on appeal.
Federal investigators have a 96% conviction rate. Plus Mueller is being much more careful than your average federal prosecutor. Plus he has the entire FBI and a few FISA warrants at his disposal.
So I am assuming the truth of anything Mueller asserts as facts in documents he files with the court.
I would caution people against reading newspapers and determining guilt or innocence based “facts” as reported, even things you can see with your own eyes, like pictures or You Tube videos.
We have courts of law for a reason — so the evidence can be probed, questioned, and cross examined. The corollary is “innocent until proven guilty,” because something can look really bad, but have a benign explanation.
As a defense lawyer, I can tell you that I would not have wanted any of my clients tried in the press.
So for the purpose of my summary, the only facts so far are those asserted by Mueller.
Why would someone plead guilty? And why do these people pleading guilty seem to be getting off so easy?
They reached a plea agreement with Mueller, which means they were willing to provide incriminating information on people above them in the chain.
A guilty plea is good for Mueller, because he doesn’t have to worry about a trial, and the public has proof that criminal activity was taking place.
A guilty plea is bad for Trump and those higher up in the chain of command because it means the people pleading guilty have provided incriminating evidence.