With first charges, Mueller sends warning to Trump, aides
By CHAD DAY and ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller has sent a warning to individuals in President Donald Trump’s orbit: If they lie about contacts between the president’s campaign and Russians, they’ll end up on the wrong end of federal criminal charges.
With the disclosure of the first criminal cases in his investigation, Mueller also showed that he will not hesitate to bring charges against people close to the campaign even if they don’t specifically pertain to Russian election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Court papers unsealed Monday revealed an indictment against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a guilty plea by another adviser, who admitted to lying to the FBI about meetings with Russian intermediaries.
Perhaps more unsettling for the White House, the plea by George Papadopoulos came weeks ago and his initial arrest has been kept quiet for months, all while he has been cooperating with federal agents. The charges had been sealed specifically to keep the news of his guilty plea from discouraging others from cooperating with the special counsel or from destroying evidence.
At Papadopoulos’ plea hearing earlier this month, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky, hinted at the possibility of more to come. The Mueller probe is “a large-scale ongoing investigation of which this case is a small part,” Zelinsky said, according to a transcript unsealed Monday.
The developments, including the unexpected unsealing of a guilty plea, usher Mueller’s investigation into a new, more serious phase. And the revelations in the guilty plea about an adviser’s Russian contacts could complicate the president’s assertions that his campaign had never coordinated with the Russian government to tip the 2016 presidential election in his favor, the central issue behind Mueller’s mandate.
The Kremlin denied Russia is implicated by the first criminal cases against associates of President Donald Trump.