Mueller has assembled a list of figures cooperating with his Russia investigation that could provide him with substantial insight into the workings of the Trump ….
The Hill: Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a list of figures cooperating with his Russia investigation that could provide him with substantial insight into the workings of the Trump campaign. He’s ability to turn associates of President Trump into cooperators has been a key facet of his investigation, lending strength to a probe that has pressed on for nearly a year and a half amid withering public scrutiny.
Legal analysts expect former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other recruits to bring the special counsel closer to getting to the bottom of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, though doing so may hinge on Mueller striking deals with even more figures.
With Mueller’s probe advancing behind closed doors, it is impossible for onlookers to judge the value or extent of any one witness’s cooperation. At the same time, observers say the deals he has struck signal he believes their cooperation to have significant value.
“If they have struck a deal where they’re going to cooperate, then that’s a pretty good indication that special counsel’s office believes they have something worth cooperating over,” said Jack Sharman, a former special counsel to Congress for the Whitewater investigation.
In Manafort, the newest cooperator, the special counsel has a window into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides and a lawyer with connections to the Russian government.
The central question surrounding the Trump Tower meeting and other significant events is whether members of the campaign conspired with Russia to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, and to what level any such conspiracy rose in the campaign.
Onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn is also viewed as valuable to Mueller’s investigation because of his role in the campaign and, briefly, the administration, as well as his own contacts with Russians.
Flynn pleaded guilty last December to lying to FBI investigators about his discussions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions on Moscow during the presidential transition. Court documents show he also talked about those conversations with other members of the Trump campaign.
Mueller asked a federal court to move forward with Flynn’s sentencing last month, a signal the special counsel believes he has gleaned all the information he can from the former adviser, and a sentencing date has been set for Dec. 18. Other campaign associates also have been ensnared in the investigation.
Richard Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and false statements charges in February and began to cooperate with Mueller’s team in their case against Manafort related to illegal foreign lobbying.
It was Gates’s testimony that ultimately helped prosecutors secure a guilty verdict against Manafort on eight counts of bank and tax fraud in Virginia federal court over the summer. Manafort was due to begin a second trial in D.C. in September, but instead agreed to plead guilty and work with prosecutors. Others have agreed to assist the special counsel but are not considered key figures.
Richard Pinedo, a California man who pleaded guilty and cooperated in the case against the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, was sentenced to six months in prison. Mueller also secured an obscure cooperator in Sam Patten, a GOP operative and former Manafort associate. Neither was involved in the Trump campaign.
The first person known to be cooperating with Mueller’s probe was George Papadopoulos. Mueller’s team, however, has signaled that it gleaned little from the former campaign adviser, whose guilty plea made headlines in October 2017 when it revealed he had been told the Russians possessed “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” — before WikiLeaks began releasing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee.
“It was at best begrudging efforts to cooperate and we don’t think they were substantial or significant in any regard,” Andrew Goldstein, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, said at Papadopoulos’s sentencing hearing last month.
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