The political world is abuzz Monday with the news of multi-count indictments against two Trump campaign officials and a guilty plea of a third, but a former federal prosecutor says virtually none of the charges are related to the Trump campaign and none of it comes anywhere close to collusion with the Russians.
After teasing the media with word that indictments could be coming down as soon as Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller ordered former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s longtime business associate, Richard Gates, to turn themselves in.
By late morning, a 12-count indictment was revealed against the men on charges ranging from conspiracy against the United States to tax fraud and money laundering. Soon after that, Mueller’s office revealed that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to charges of making false statements.
Reaction was swift and wide-ranging. Many in the media and political operatives on the left posited that Monday’s announcements are just the tip of the iceberg that could result in major political and legal problems for other Trump advisers and even some family members. Supporters of the president say the only charges filed so far have nothing to do with the original purpose of Mueller’s probe.
Former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova says the latter argument is the big takeaway from Monday.
“This has nothing to do with collusion with the Russians. That’s number one. It involves previous work that Manafort did for the Ukranian government and various Ukranian organizations, which he failed to report to the U.S. government because he was doing work on their behalf, lobbying the U.S. government in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said diGenova.
“It has nothing to do with the campaign and it involves activities from 2006-2015, before [Manafort] got anywhere near the Trump campaign,” said diGenova.
As for Papadopoulos, diGenova says those crimes also had nothing to do with the Trump campaign.
“He was actually questioned about connections – while he was working for the campaign – with Russians, all of which he admitted do and which were perfectly legal. But he lied to the bureau about those connections and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his activities, both before and while he was working for the campaign,” said diGenova.
But diGenova says it is critical to note that Papadopoulos was not charged with anything else.
“That touches on the campaign but it does not involve any illegal activity by the campaign or by Mr. Papadopoulos while he was a member of the campaign. It’r really quite bizarre. It’s an example of the old adage: it isn’t the crime, it’s the cover up,” said diGenova.
The mainstream media is actively suggesting that the conversations Papadopoulos had with Russians is the beginning of the evidence needed to show collusion. diGenova says there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the communication campaigns can have with foreign governments.
“It’s not illegal to talk to a foreign government during a campaign. It’s not illegal to have meetings with foreigners or foreign governments during a campaign. It’s not illegal to travel overseas to meet with foreign governments or foreign officials, all of which Mr. Papadopoulos did,” said diGenova.
“The other stuff that people are making out of this is nothing that campaign hasn’t already admitted to. They admitted that they met with people from Russia. Some of it was pretty goofy stuff. Some of it was minor in terms of policy.
“But so far, there is no evidence in either one of these indictments of anything involving the word collusion,” said diGenova.
As for the charges against Manafort, diGenova says those are very serious. He says allegations of not paying taxes on the money he earned and effectively laundering it through overseas real estate deals not only put him in legal jeopardy but he effectively forced his accountants and lawyers to unwittingly pass false information on to the government as well.
Ultimately, diGenova expects Manafort to accept a plea bargain. He says he’d be very surprised to see the case go to trial.
So do these charges fit the instructions given to Mueller to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 elections or is this too far afield? diGenova says the Justice Department never gave Mueller any specific crime to investigate, leaving his mission very open ended.
“I think it was a mistake to give such a broad mandate to Mr. Mueller. That’s not Mr. Mueller’s fault. That’s a decision the Department of Justice made and I think it was a bad one,” said diGenova.
However, diGenova still believes the most important questions about shady connections between the U.S. and Russia revolve around the transfer of 20 percent of U.S. uranium reserves to Russia near the same time major donations were made to the Clinton Foundation. He wants a special counsel appointed to investigate that case.
But diGenova says the revelations of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paying millions of dollars for a former British intelligence officer to mine his Russian sources for dirt on Donald Trump is the biggest bombshell of all.
“The dossier could be in the jurisdiction of Robert Mueller. But if it isn’t, that certainly needs to be investigated by another special counsel or the Department of Justice,” said diGenova.
“I think the most serious stuff that’s come out recently is the dossier. I think that is directly related to the campaign and the use of Russian influence to try and discredit a candidate,” said diGenova.