Politics

Analysis: 5 Possible Outcomes of First Mueller Indictments

Manafort, Flynn, Page at top of potential indictment list; Mueller’s firing a long shot

Paul Manafort reportedly had been warned in the past by special counsel Robert Mueller that he may be indicted. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The uncharacteristically quiet day at the White House was upended Friday evening by a report that the first indictments in the Justice Department’s Russia probe are imminent.

A Washington, D.C., federal grand jury has approved a set of initial charges stemming from the Robert S. Mueller III-led investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 U.S. presidential election. CNN first reported that the former FBI director turned special counsel could take the first individuals into custody as soon as Monday.

While all indications are that President Donald Trump has yet to be interviewed by Mueller, there’s a list of his top 2016 campaign aides, current and former White House aides and longtime confidants who could be rounded up by Mueller’s team early next week.

Here are five indictments and related outcomes that are possible then:

Leading indicators

Paul Manafort is indicted. We know that the former Trump campaign chairman has plenty of ties to Russia and other former clients in the region, including former senior Ukrainian leaders.

Most recently, reports surfaced of alleged business dealings totaling $60 million over the past decade between Manafort and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Manafort worked for Derispaska from 2005 to 2009, The Associated Press reported.

Mueller has reportedly warned Manafort, who is said to have supplied the Putin-connected Deripaska with briefings on the 2016 campaign, that he likely would be indicted. 

Michael Flynn is indicted. The retired Army three-star general was once a well-respected military intelligence officer. He rose through the ranks to lead the Pentagon’s top espionage entity, the Defense Intelligence Agency. Then, former aides and confidants have told NPR and other outlets, something changed.

Flynn became enamored with the kind of conservative conspiracy theories that helped power Trump to the White House. The longtime soldier, who had gone into the consulting world after being fired from the DIA by President Barack Obama, became a leading national security and foreign policy adviser to candidate Trump.

But Flynn brought to the campaign a list of questionable decisions, many involving his ties to Russian officials, as a general turned consultant. Flynn served just 24 days as Trump’s first White House national security adviser before the president claimed he fired him for misleading Vice President Mike Pence.

House Democrats have pressed for their Republican counterparts to subpoena the White House for documents they allege will show Flynn’s “egregious conflicts of interest” due to his business dealings with foreign governments. One is Turkey. Another is Russia.

“We believe this paper trail must be pursued to answer the gravest question of all: Did Gen. Flynn seek to change the course of our country’s national security to benefit the same private interests he previously promoted, whether by advising President Trump, interacting with foreign officials, or influencing other members of the Trump administration?” House Oversight ranking member Elijah E. Cummings wrote in a recent letter to panel Chairman Trey Gowdy that featured nearly 20 other Democratic signatures.

Carter Page is indicted. The Trump-connected energy consultant came under scrutiny in 2016 for alleged questionable ties to Putin’s government while he was part of the Trump campaign.

Though Page has denied any nefarious links to Russian officials, he has informed the Senate Intelligence Committee that he plans to plead the Fifth if called to testify in that panel’s Russia probe. He is slated to appear before the House Intelligence Committee next week but has given no indication if he will be cooperative in that investigation.

The long shots

Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. is indicted. The latter is the president’s eldest son and the former is his son-in-law and a senior White House adviser. Both were present during a July 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who allegedly came with Kremlin-supplied dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Following nearly three hours of testimony before Senate Intelligence staffers on July 24, Kushner stood outside the White House and denied colluding with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, saying all of his actions were both legal and proper.

Trump’s son-in-law defended himself during rare public remarks, saying: “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”

“I had no improper contacts” during the campaign and transition period, Kushner said under a hot July sun, adding, “I have not relied on Russian funds for my business.”

He has said he left the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer after concluding she had nothing of value for his father-in-law’s campaign.

Steven Hall, the CIA’s former chief of Russia operations, on Friday took to Twitter to summarize what might have Trump Jr. in legal hot water when it comes to that July 2016 meeting: “Don Jr took a mtg to get info Russians wanted to give.”

But an email exchange surfaced this summer with a former Russian business partner of his father that shows Trump Jr. enthusiastically accepting the man’s offer to pass the alleged Kremlin-provided dirt on Clinton to the Trump campaign.

“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. wrote during the email exchange with Rob Goldstone, a British-born entertainment publicist who met his father when he was trying to do business in Russia. Their email exchange began on June 3, 2016, about a month and a half before Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination.

If Mueller is targeting the commander in chief, going after his son or son-in-law this early would be a way of getting Trump's attention.

Trump fires Mueller. Remember, Trump already ousted FBI Director James B. Comey, who has said the president asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn.

“No, not at all,“ Trump told reporters during an impromptu Oct. 16 Rose Garden press conference when asked if he was considering firing Mueller from the special counsel post.

But that was before the president, who values and rewards loyalty, was facing the first wave of indictments in the Russia probe. And Trump made his disgust clear that day about the ongoing DOJ investigation.

“I’d like to see it end. Look, the whole Russian thing was an excuse [by the Democrats],” he said. “So that was just an excuse for the Democrats losing an election that, frankly, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. … So there has been absolutely no collusion. … They ought to get to the end of it because I think the American public is sick of it.”

There is a modern precedent, though controversial and presidency-ending, for such a move.

The modern standard bearer is Richard Nixon, the president whom Trump’s critics often cite when pointing to his rhetoric and missteps. The so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 went down after Nixon’s insistence that the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate cover-up be fired and ended with the top two Justice Department officials quitting. Nixon eventually resigned in 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee reported articles of impeachment but before the full House could vote.

(Note: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her top two deputies were asked to respond to the CNN report. None of the senior White House officials responded by time of publication.)

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