The first arrests in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election could come as soon as Monday.
CNN reported late Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first indictments of the investigation. Those charges will remain under seal over the weekend. Arrests pursuant to those indictments are expected Monday. The report is sourced to unnamed individuals who have been briefed on the matter.
An indictment is a charging document which permits a prosecutor to arrest an individual on particular charges. Indictments are first approved by a grand jury, a panel of citizen jurors usually numbering near two dozen. As a general matter, a prosecutor will present his case to the grand jury, which then decides if he has marshaled enough evidence for criminal charges.
Under normal circumstances, indictments are sought at the conclusion of an investigation. Friday’s indictments could signal that Mueller has concluded the investigatory phase of his probe, and that federal prosecutors are moving the case into a formal legal process. That, potentially, is good news for the Trump White House, as it would signal that President Donald Trump and his closest advisors will not be the subject of criminal charges or further inquiry.
Then again, it is difficult to know if these are indeed normal circumstances. Many legal commentators have noted that aspects of Mueller’s inquiry have resembled those of an organized crime investigation. Some of the personnel he has hired have extensive experience pursuing and prosecuting mafia syndicates. One such hire is Andrew Weissman, a seasoned government lawyer who perfected his craft prosecuting the Colombo, Gambino and Genovese crime families in New York. He went on to lead the criminal fraud unit at the Department of Justice.
Mueller’s team has also aggressively subpoenaed potential witnesses, compelling their testimonies before a grand jury without first questioning them in an informal setting. The New York Times notes this tactic is typical of mafia investigations.
Mafia inquiries might best be thought of as “snowballing” or “rolling” investigations — indictments are secured and arrests are made. Those arrests lead to more investigations, new information, and eventually, a new set of indictments. As such, Friday’s charges could simply be the first step of a multi-phase process that dogs the administration for years. Since Mueller’s lawyers are still interviewing White House staff and reviewing administration documents, this seems like the most likely outcome.
Given the circumstances of the investigation, the sourcing of the CNN report is rather peculiar. The usual sources for leaks of this nature — defense lawyers and congressional committees — are unlikely candidates in this situation. Defense attorneys generally do not receive advance notice about sealed indictments, and the relevant congressional committees probably haven’t been briefed on the charges at this stage. Nor is it likely that the leak derives from Mueller’s team, given the special counsel’s well-known distaste for intrigue with the press. Even the location of the Washington office from which his team operates is unknown, an unbelievable feat in a town where a minute bit of gossip is the preferred currency of the realm.
The leak could raise serious questions about the integrity of the grand jury. Leaks concerning grand jury deliberations and sealed indictments are unlawful in certain circumstances.
Paul Manafort, the deposed chairman of the Trump campaign, is widely believed to be the subject of Friday’s indictments. Several sources close to President Trump, including veterans of the campaign, told The Daily Caller early in September that they expect Manafort will be indicted for financial crimes like money-laundering or tax evasion. The FBI staged an early morning raid of his Alexandria, Va. apartment in July.
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