Why Mueller’s Latest Indictment of Paul Manafort Should Worry Donald TrumpPhoto by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Politics Features Donald Trump
This afternoon, Special Counsel Robert Mueller delivered to the D.C. federal district court a superseding indictment that added more charges to the many counts already facing Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump. A superseding indictment fully replaces an earlier indictment. In this case, the previous indictment remained unchanged, but added two new charges — obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice — and named a new defendant, Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian citizen, political consultant, and suspected former Kremlin intelligence operative. Kilimnik and Manafort were former business partners and worked together to shape Ukrainian politics in Russia’s interest.
The new charges indicate that Manafort and Kilimnik worked together in an effort to tamper with witnesses, an allegation Mueller leveled at Manafort earlier this week in an official request to revoke the former campaign manager’s $10 million bond and throw him in jail. Kilimnik is the 20th person Mueller has charged in his investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Though Trump isn’t named or directly implicated in the new charges, the subtext indicates he might be in a lot of trouble. Here are the three major takeaways that should worry Trump.
1. We know Mueller’s bar for obstruction charges.
There’s been a lot of debate over whether Trump obstructed justice. He says he didn’t, but spoiler: He did, and he continues to almost daily. Here are two breakdowns — here and here — of why this isn’t even up for debate, and those articles were from months ago. Trump’s dozens of self-owns since then have added to the list.
The charges in this indictment stem from Mueller’s accusation that Manafort tampered with witnesses earlier this year, allegedly asking them to lie on his behalf. That court filing from earlier this week says a witness told investigators that Manafort pressured them to commit perjury on his behalf regarding lobbying work they’d done for him in the states. Mueller’s new indictment took that filing up a level, and made it an official charge of obstruction of justice. The wording of these charges is what’s important.
For the first charge, Obstruction of Justice, the indictment alleges that Manafort and Kilimnik both “knowingly and intentionally attempted to corruptly persuade” two unnamed witnesses “with intent to influence, delay, and prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding.” The second charge, Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice, has the exact same wording, but instead of “attempted” it says “conspired.”
That’s it. That’s all it takes to get charged with obstruction of justice. Compare that to everything Trump and the gang have done over the past 18 months or so, and the evidence seems staggering. We even have several specific instances of the same offense Manafort and Kilimnik are now charged with, notably Trump’s personal attempts to shape and censure Congressional testimony of aides such as Steve Bannon, as well as his attempts to pressure intelligence chiefs (specifically former FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers) into denying in Congressional testimony that there was evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. None of them denied it.
That alone seems to fit the bill. Never mind the hundreds of other efforts of The Gang to obstruct justice, intimidate witnesses, influence testimony, tell lies, pressure others to lie, fire key officials, end the investigation, undermine the credibility of the investigation, and on and on.
And it gets even bigger. Which brings up point two.
2. A conspiracy to obstruct justice can be international.
Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian citizen living in Moscow. Paul Manafort is an American citizen (technically) living in the United States. They worked together in their effort to obstruct justice, so this conspiracy crosses international lines. This is specifically important because of recent news about what happened in the aftermath of the news about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and a set of agents representing the Russian government.
This May, Senate investigators released thousands of documents related to the Russia investigation, among them transcripts of interviews with meeting attendees from both sides. Those documents reveal that Trump Organization lawyers tried to shape the messaging of people involved with the meeting, including Russian citizens Aras and Emin Agalarov, who made initial contact with the campaign and helped set up the meeting.
When Senators asked Rob Goldstone, the initial point of contact on the Trump side, whether the statements that the Trump Organization had crafted contained any inaccuracies, he replied “not necessarily.” If that’s not collusion, I don’t know what is. This means Trump himself could very well face charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice on an international level.
We need to come to grips with the fact that the president faces countless charges of obstruction of justice.
3. Indictments aren’t written in stone.
Indictments are living documents that can be updated to incorporate more charges. This one is an extension of the indictment of Manafort that Mueller handed down last October. It’s verbatim, save the two new charges and new defendant. The other indictments we’ve seen, such as of Mike Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos, aren’t necessarily final documents. We might see Mueller add new charges to those indictments as well. This would likely indicate the quality and reliability of cooperation those cooperating witnesses have given him, and whether they’ve been willing to bend or break the law for Trump. If we see no new charges filed against those people, that’s actually more bad news for Trump.