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New Charges Against Manafort and Gates Cast Uncertainty on Direction of Special Counsel Probe

Special counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday issued new indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his one-time deputy Rick Gates.

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Many of the details of the new 32-count indictment were included in the original 12-count indictment issued against the two men in October. The new charges, though, bring the force of law to allegations of tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud by both Manafort and Gates.

Coming amidst conflicting reports about Gates’ potential willingness to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation and testify against his old boss, the new charges muddy the waters surrounding the question of Gates’ position going forward.

The Los Angeles Times and CNN had recently reported that Gates was on the verge of reaching a plea agreement with Mueller that would presumably include cooperation in the case against Manafort.

An associate of Gates, Alex van der Zwaan, pled guilty this week to making false statements about contacts with Gates regarding lobbying allegedly done on behalf of Ukraine’s then pro-Russian government.

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Gates, meanwhile, was represented in court on Thursday by Thomas C. Green, a high-profile Washington lawyer reportedly known for helping to negotiate plea deals.

The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, however, was reporting on Thursday that Green had been fired and would be replaced by Barry Pollack. Miller Chevalier—where Pollack works—is the former firm of Manafort’s current attorney, Kevin Downing, which might indicate that Gates was moving closer to Manafort and away from a plea deal.

Either way, the new charges—filed in the Eastern District of Virginia rather than the District of Columbia where the first charges were filed—increase the potential jail time for both men.

The indictment accuses the pair of laundering more than $30 million from offshore bank accounts, moving more than $75 million through those accounts, and fraudulently securing more than $20 million in bank loans by lying about Manafort and his company’s income and by hiding debts.

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The newest details in the indictment describe how Gates allegedly doctored documents and solicited the aide of co-conspirators to falsify records in order to help Manafort allegedly fraudulently secure bank loans.

This included modifying reported income on official forms by changing them from PDFs to Word documents and back again. Manafort also allegedly supplied a bank with a letter from Gates that falsely took the blame for $300,000 in American Express debt that had damaged Manafort’s credit rating. Those specific charges of alleged financial fraud began in July 2016 when Manafort was still head of the Trump campaign.

As the Washington Post reported, the trial judge in the Washington D.C. portion of the case had expressed frustration at the delayed timetable around a trial date:

Last week, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson criticized both sides for what she called “unacceptable delays” in a case which still doesn’t have a trial date set.

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Again, many of the details of the new charges were already made public in October’s indictment, so it appears as though Mueller’s team had been holding them in their back pockets for a number of months.

It’s unclear whether the charges were simply not fully ready in October, or if there was some greater tactical reason for the delay. It’s possible that the reported plea negotiations between Mueller and Gates had reached an impasse and this was the special counsel’s way of increasing the pressure on him. It’s also possible that Mueller’s team was beginning to feel under the gun to add superseding charges in a new venue sooner rather than later following the criticism from Judge Berman Jackson.

Either way, the new charges and reports about Gates’ legal team throw a good deal of uncertainty into a picture that had begun to appear to calcify in recent days.

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