The Mueller Russia Investigation: A Full Docket Of Developments Set For Friday

4 hours ago
Originally published on December 6, 2018 1:03 pm

Friday is shaping up as a busy day in the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

Special counsel Robert Mueller faces deadlines in two federal courts in cases involving two former Trump insiders, a former FBI director treks up to Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview, and a onetime Trump campaign adviser gets out of prison.

Here's a quick breakdown of what's on tap for the day:

Mueller's office to detail Paul Manafort's alleged lies

Friday is the deadline for Mueller's team to submit to federal court in Washington, D.C., a document spelling out how President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly violated his plea agreement.

Manafort pleaded guilty in September to two conspiracy charges in Washington and agreed to cooperate "fully" and "truthfully" with federal prosecutors, including Mueller's team in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But last week, the special counsel's office said that Manafort had repeatedly lied to prosecutors since agreeing to cooperate, which it says violated his plea deal. Mueller's team did not provide any details on how Manafort may have breached the agreement or what he allegedly lied about.

That information is expected to be made public Friday, when Mueller's team is to submit to Judge Amy Berman Jackson a document detailing Manafort's alleged "crimes and lies," including those it says he committed after he signed his cooperation agreement.

Manafort's lawyers have rejected the government's allegations. They say Manafort met several times with investigators and provided what he believed to be truthful information.

Under his agreement, Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea.

Jackson has set a tentative sentencing date of March 2019 for Manafort, who was convicted by a federal jury in a separate case in Virginia in August. Manafort, 69, faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Leniency for Cohen?

As Manafort's plea deal appeared to collapse last week, another one came together for Mueller. Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts well into 2016 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen admitted that his work for the Trump Organization on the proposed Moscow real estate deal ran through at least June 2016, deep into the presidential race.

He also said that he kept Trump and Trump's family regularly informed of his efforts and that he had a 20-minute phone conversation with a Kremlin official to try to enlist the Russian government's help in securing land and financing for the project.

Cohen had lied about all three of those things in his 2017 testimony to Congress, according to court papers. He lied, the filings say, for two reasons: to minimize links between the Moscow project and Trump and to give the "false impression" that the project ended before the Republican primaries began in order to limit the ongoing Russia investigation.

Cohen's plea agreement indicates that he has met with the special counsel's team at least seven times. His lawyer, Guy Petrillo, says Cohen is prepared to continue that cooperation, as needed.

Cohen, who also pleaded guilty earlier this year to eight counts of financial crimes and campaign finance violations, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12 in New York by Judge William H. Pauley.

In a court filing last week, Cohen's attorneys requested leniency in sentencing, asking the judge for time served. They say Cohen has taken responsibility for his actions and cooperated fully with the special counsel's office.

He also has voluntarily provided assistance to New York state investigators, Cohen's lawyers say. Cohen met with the New York attorney general's office regarding its suit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation and provided information and interviews to the state's Department of Taxation and Finance.

Cohen has cooperated, his lawyers point out, despite the president's attacks on the special counsel's office, as well as Trump's salvos against Cohen himself.

"In the context of this raw, full-bore attack by the most powerful person in the United States, Michael, formerly a confidante and adviser to Mr. Trump, resolved to cooperate, and voluntarily took the first steps toward doing so," his lawyers write.

Mueller's office is expected to file a memo with its recommendations for Cohen's sentencing on Friday. If the special counsel says it believes the sentencing should be lenient — as it did earlier this week for Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn — that would suggest that the former Trump fixer has been a helpful witness.

Welcome back, Comey

Former FBI Director James Comey is set to return to Capitol Hill for a transcribed interview behind closed doors with the House Judiciary and Oversight committees on Friday.

For a time, though, it appeared that the interview might not happen.

Comey originally contested a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte. The former FBI chief said he would gladly meet for a public hearing, but he did not want to come in for a closed-door interview because of concerns over "selective leaking and distortion."

Comey ultimately withdrew his legal challenge to the subpoena and agreed to appear, although the committee has agreed to release the transcript as soon as possible afterward.

The interview is likely to be among the last gasps of the panels' Republican-led investigations into decisions made in 2016 by the FBI and the Justice Department. Democrats take control of the House in January, putting them in charge of setting the investigative agenda.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch has also been issued a subpoena to appear.

Papadopoulos to exit federal prison

Not to be outdone, George Papadopoulos, the man whose barroom chatter helped trigger the Russia investigation, wraps up his two-week prison sentence Friday. He has served his time at a medium security federal prison in Oxford, Wis.

Papadopoulos, who worked as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign. He agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Prosecutors with Mueller's office requested a sentence within the guideline range of zero to six months. They said his lies hampered the investigation. He also did not provide substantial assistance to investigators despite agreeing to cooperate, prosecutors say.

After sentencing, Papadopoulos asked the court to delay his prison time until a separate case challenging Mueller's appointment had concluded. Those requests were denied.

In recent months, Papadopoulos has attacked the Russia investigation on Twitter. He has suggested that he was set up as part of a conspiracy targeting Trump.

Once he emerges from federal prison on Friday, Papadopoulos is not entirely off the hook. He still faces a year of supervised release.

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