First Indictment in Russiagate: Special Counsel Not Up to the Task
EDITORIAL | 01.11.2017

First Indictment in Russiagate: Special Counsel Not Up to the Task

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the “Russiagate” investigator aided by a team of seasoned prosecutors, has launched the first wave of charges. The indictment of Paul Manafort, the veteran GOP operative who once chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and his former longtime business associate Rick Gates, went public on October 30. It made Russia’s alleged meddling into the 2016 US presidential election hit media headlines but they happened to be wrong. It wasn’t Russia the indictment was about.

In May, Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel of the Russia probe. He was given a mandate to investigate “any links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and Trump campaign associates. Surprising or not, the indictment does not mention neither Trump nor Russia! The story is about Ukraine. Paul Manafort had ties with Ukraine’s Party of Regions, which was considered as a “pro-Moscow” political force. That’s the only “Russia connection.” Everything related to Manafort pertains to the period before he started to work for Donald Trump. And Rick Gates has never had any relation to the incumbent president or his team.

The text of indictment prepared by the one who media have often called the best US investigator is fraught with speculations, inaccuracies and mistakes to make the horse laugh.

For instance, Manafort’s indictment (Item 22, page 15) states very seriously that Yulia Tymoshenko had served as Ukraine’s President prior to Yanukovych! It takes a few seconds to have a look at the list of Ukraine’s presidents to find out that Yulia Timoshenko has never been the holder of the highest office.

Another indictment says Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, a cooperating witness, had repeatedly contacted individuals tied to the Russian government in an attempt to broker a meeting with Kremlin officials. Who do you think he met? “Putin’s niece” in flesh and blood! She was supposed to help him organize a meeting between the then-candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The same document says it was later established she was not a relative of the Russian president and it is still not known who the Russian lady was! Ridiculous, isn’t it? Can it be called a high-quality investigation done by a team of seasoned prosecutors?

The document also mentions unmanned contacts preparing a top-level meeting. The indictment does not provide any explanation why Donald Trump should need any dubious mediators at all. He visited Moscow in 2013 and there were no problems.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Papadopoulos never was a presidential adviser. According to her, he was “nothing more than a campaign volunteer” not paid by the campaign. Was it so hard for such an experienced lawyer as Robert Mueller to make precise who exactly the man was before publishing the document?

Can the fancy stories based on mere rumors about “Putin’s nieces” and inexistent presidential advisers preparing summits be considered serious evidence to go upon? The charges appear to be harmless for the White House and the nature of any potential allegations could be nebulous.

Nevertheless, Paul Manafort may be sentenced to 80 years behind bars; Rick Gates may get a 70-year term of imprisonment. The prospects are scary enough to make the indicted give any testimony the prosecution wants as the only way to reduce their sentences. The charges appear to be elements of a larger investigation. The threat of long prison sentences allows investigators to extract plea deals from potential witnesses, which can then be used to bring charges against more significant targets. Pressure is exerted on the indicted to provide information in connection with other possible violations of law involving other persons. The special counsel could file additional charges in the future. President Trump or one of top officials may say something under oath and then Manafort or Gates will say it wasn’t true. Then the evidence given by those who are charged could constitute grounds for impeachment. Setting up the scene is the name of the game.

Donald Trump claimed on October 25 that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign paid nearly $6 million to the firm behind a controversial opposition research dossier alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. But nobody talks about the need to launch an inquiry. That’s what justice is like in the United States.

Evidently, Mueller’s team is not up to the task. It has failed to find new examples of communication between the Trump campaign associates and Russia. If the mission is to smear Russia, then Robert Mueller has done a very poor job.