The probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller has taken a surprising turn with indictments against short-lived former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. This is in addition to a guilty plea from former Trump campaign national security adviser George Papadopoulos, who admitted to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian-connected officials.
The indictments are even more relevant in that they show the aggressiveness of the Special Counsel’s team. According to Politico, prosecutors have convinced a federal judge to forego typical attorney-client privilege and force a lawyer for Manafort and Gates to testify before a Grand Jury investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the case merits an exception to the attorney-client communication norm. Lawyers can be made to testify against their clients when the said lawyer has allegedly been used to commit a crime or fraud.
Manafort and Gates have been indicted for failing to fill out foreign agent lobbying registrations with the Justice Department for work they did on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions. They also stand accused of laundering the money they made from that work.
Despite the severity of the charges laid against Manafort and Gates, the charges stand unrelated to the Trump campaign and to President Donald Trump himself. The activities for which the political consultants are under investigation preceded their work with President Trump by several years.
Judge Howell wrote that the denial given by Manafort and Gates “is false, a half-truth, or at least misleading because evidence shows that Target 1 and Target 2 were intimately involved in significant outreach in the United States on behalf of [a European think tank,] the Party of Regions and/or the Ukrainian government.”
Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, believes the judge thinks Manafort and Gates tricked their lawyer into sending misleading letters to the Justice Department regarding their lobbying and related emails.
“Essentially, the judge is saying that it is probable or likely that the clients had a criminal or fraudulent purpose in hiring the lawyer, even if (we would hope) the lawyer did not know it,” Gillers said.
Gillers believes this new revelation means Mueller’s Special Counsel team has significant evidence against Manafort and Gates. “The implications of this decision are significant,” Gillers continued. “First, a judge has decided that the clients were committing a crime or fraud and using a lawyer to do it. So that tells us something about the strength of the OSC’s evidence.
“The OSC had the burden of proof and it met it. Further, once you can pierce the privilege, there’s no telling what information you can go on to discover. This decision will be useful in other contests to discover lawyer-client communications, even communications with different law firms if any.”
Paul Manafort’s lawyers are being forced to testify against him. Do you think this is fair?
The fight over attorney-client privilege played out in three hearings in September before a ruling was made October 2nd. The indictment of Manafort and Gates was unsealed on Monday.
President Trump’s detractors have heralded the news as a victory, despite the fact that Manafort’s illicit dealings have no relation to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. However, some observers believe Mueller may use the charges against Manafort to persuade him to provide information on President Trump and his close associates.