Mueller's First Indictments Stirs Fear in White House

Posted Nov. 1, 2017

MP3 Interview with Adele M Stan, columnist with The American Prospect and winner of the 2017 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism, conducted by Scott Harris

collusion

The first indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations that the Trump presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government were announced on the morning of Oct. 30. Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates were indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal and making false and misleading statements. Prosecutors say Manafort laundered more than $18 million from overseas accounts. Manafort and Gates, who entered not guilty pleas, posted $10 million and $5 million bonds respectively and were placed under house arrest.

Possibly more significant is the revelation that former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. There’s speculation that Papadopoulos, who had been cooperating with investigators since his secret July arrest, could have been wearing a wire to record conversations with Trump insiders.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Adele M. Stan, a columnist with The American Prospect, who examines the importance of the Mueller indictments and the likely political response in the Republican-controlled Congress.

ADELE M. STAN: The situation with this guy (George) Papadopoulos, who I think is a new name to most of us, is really intriguing because this is a low-level guy who was on Trump's foreign policy advisory team but who seems to have little foreign policy except for having been part of a model U.N. program in college. But he's offering to set up meetings for the campaign, and while he was on the campaign with Russians who are ostensibly close to Putin, at one point even saying he's going to get a meeting with Putin himself on behalf of the Trump campaign.

It turns out that the FBI did interview him back in January, and Papadopoulos apparently lied to the FBI. So he winds up getting arrested, but they keep his indictment under seal until now. So there's a scuttlebutt that they kept him working for the government as an informant in the months intervening. And if that's the case, who knows what Mueller has right now if this guy wore a wire or he had face-to-face meetings with people from the campaign staff that he had worked with and got admissions from them or whatever, so it's kind of impossible to know exactly where this investigation is right now, but by the hysteria that we see on Twitter coming from the president himself, one might think that the president's a little nervous.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I wanted to ask you about something that has been roiling around for quite some time and that is, since Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, there's a been lot of speculation that if Trump insiders are indicted and face prison time, that Donald Trump will offer pardons to those folks, which certainly could unravel a trial and the case against Trump and his campaign. There's other speculation that state charges, which are not susceptible to presidential pardons at the federal level, might take the place of the leverage over some of those who are indicted in the near time.

ADELE M. STAN: Right.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What's your feeling about this power the president has to pardon and how it may affect this case?

ADELE M. STAN: It is, troubling, right, especially given this particular president. And not that I would want to see the power of the pardon removed from the presidency. I'm not saying that. But in the hands of this particular president under these particular circumstances, it is troubling. It doesn't necessarily upend the case per se, Scott, because the pardon is a pardon of a sentence, right? It's not a pardon from the crime. And that's what we saw with Arpaio – that, okay, so doesn't go to prison. But he's still convicted. So you can wind up with is an exposure of what happened, but then nobody goes to jail for it, or nobody goes to federal prison.

In terms of the issue that you wisely bring up about what states can prosecute and which are immune – which the president cannot pardon –somebody convicted on state charges. That is really particularly interesting in this case of the Trump-Russia collusion. So it's unlikely that a state can nail a campaign for colluding with a foreign power, that would be for the most part, federal charges. But they can be charged for financial crimes. So yes, you're quite right, that is one way that this could go.

I mean, the Republicans are just not standing up to any of this. It doesn't seem like any of the Democrats who are vying, positioning themselves for a 2020 presidential are really going hard after the Republicans either.

BETWEEN THE LINES: In terms of where this investigation may go eventually, if Robert Mueller puts together a case that really implicates Donald Trump directly, but doesn't charge him with a crime, it really falls to Congress – the House and the Senate both – to engage in impeachment proceedings. It seems like the Republican-controlled House and Senate aren't going to even go there. What's your speculation if Donald Trump is indeed implicated? What do you think the response of the Republican Congress is going to be?

ADELE M. STAN: Well I think there's a lot of variables, Scott, and one is how close to implication or how implicated is Mike Pence? And I think that will be a factor. Now, Vice President Mike Pence was the (chair of the transition), he was warned about retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn lobbying on behalf of the government of Turkey. So Pence is not pure in any of this, although he presents himself as an (unintelligible). If there's anything that implicates him in a way that would be damaging to him, I don't think we'll see articles of impeachment ever come out of the House of Representatives. I do think there's a slim chance they could come out of the House of Representatives and that's the body from which they have to emanate for that to happen if they think Pence has gotten off, that he's not implicated.

Because here's the thing. You know who owns the Congress. I know you know this and I know your listeners know this – the Koch brothers own the Congress. And Mike Pence owes his career to the Koch brothers and they're very, very keen on him. So I really think there's a chance that Donald Trump really doesn't even want this tax reform bill because if it goes through, he's in much greater risk of articles of impeachment being drawn up against him because he is only president so long as the Koch brothers say he is, because of the power they hold in the House of Representatives.

Visit Adele M. Stan’s articles for the American Prospect magazine at prospect.org/authors/adele-m-stan.

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