2018 has been a year of startling developments in the Russia Investigation, with the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller quietly and methodically carrying out the investigation into the role Russia played in the 2016 presidential election and any contacts members of the Trump campaign had with Russian officials.
To date, Mueller’s team has put the indictment of 33 individuals and 3 businesses in the books, the majority of those being Russian nationals and GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) officers who were charged in 2018. There have been nearly 200 criminal charges racked up. Out of the eight guilty pleas Mueller has logged in the last 18 months, six have come in 2018. Two sentences have been served, with several more individuals waiting to be sentenced after their cooperation is completed.
The special counsel’s investigation has cost approximately $25 million to date, $17 million of that total was accrued in 2017, with $8.5 being spent from April to September of 2018, per USA Today. Nearly $3 million went to compensation, about a million went towards rent, with travel and contractual services costing a little less than a million. $3.9 million in support from the Department of Justice was also reported.
The costs of the special counsel’s probe have been offset by the approximately $48 million in seized assets.
The year started off with the mysterious George Nader being reported to have been granted immunity. Nader was involved in the Seychelles meeting.
On February 16, Special Counsel Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies. The St. Petersburg located Internet Research Agency was accused of stealing the identities of Americans and manipulating the election, along with Yevgeniy Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s Chef”.
Along with the bombshell announcement of the indictments of the Russians, a 28 year old California man named Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to identity fraud. He agreed to cooperate with the government and in October was sentenced to six months in jail, 6 months of home detention and 2 years of supervised release.
On February 22, Mueller filed a superseding indictment with 32 counts of bank and tax fraud against Paul Manafort and his close associate, Rick Gates. Gates pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and financial fraud and has been cooperating with Mueller’s team. He testified against Manafort in the Virginia trial, resolutely ignoring Manafort’s angry glare. He has not been sentenced yet.
April 9 saw Michael Cohen’s office, home and hotel room raided by the FBI. Mueller’s team referred the investigation of Cohen to the SDNY. Cohen, under pressure from the President to not cooperate, eventually pleaded guilty twice. In August he pleaded guilty to 8 counts of tax and campaign finance violations, implicating President Trump in the charges as the one who ordered him to break the law. On November 29, he pleaded guilty, again, to lying to Congress about the Moscow Project, in which Trump was planning on building a Trump Tower in Moscow far into his run for president.
Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in jail and continues cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation.
Paul Manafort started 2018 with the same defiance he showed when he pleaded not guilty in late 2017. He faced two separate trials, one in Virginia and one in Washington DC, and upwards of 400 years in jail if convicted on all charges.
In June, Manafort was charged with witness tampering along with his GRU associate Konstantin Kilimnik. Judge Berman ordered him into custody to await trial. On August 21, within the same hour that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, Paul Manafort was convicted of 8 charges by the jury in the Virginia trial. On September 14, facing a second trial with even more serious charges, he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation.
On November 26, Mueller’s office revoked Manafort’s plea deal for lying to investigators while under a cooperation deal.
George Papadopoulos, the infamous coffee boy, was sentenced in November, nearly two years after he first lied to the FBI. Mueller’s team recommended a sentence of six months, stating that his lies to investigators harmed their investigation. George, after being defiant towards the investigation on Twitter, asked for extreme leniency and was sentenced to 14 days in jail, 12 months of supervised release, 200 hours of community service, and a fine of $9,500. He served 12 days. Papadopoulos declared on Twitter that he would be running for Congress.
Alex van der Zwaan, the Dutch attorney caught up in Manafort’s and Gates’ lobbying efforts in Ukraine, pleaded guilty in February and asked to promptly serve his 30 day sentence, so he could be with his wife when she gave birth. He was deported after being released from jail in June.
Sam Patten, another Manafort associate, pleaded guilty to Foreign Agents Registration Act violations in August and illegally lobbying for Ukraine and Russia. He agreed to cooperate with the government and was released on his own recognizance after surrendering his passport. Patten’s case has been quiet, but just today a Joint Status Report was filed under seal.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Adviser, resigned after he was revealed to have lied to the FBI and Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was the first to plead guilty in the Russia probe back in December 2018.
His sentencing hearing finally was scheduled for December 18, more than a year after pleading guilty. The judge pointed out the severity of Flynn’s actions, saying, “This is a very serious offense. It involves in making false statements to the FBI on the premises of the White House in the West Wing!” He said Flynn’s conduct was a national betrayal and went against the uniform Flynn wore. Flynn admitted he knew lying to the FBI was a crime when he lied. Flynn’s attorney were forced to admit the FBI did not entrap their client. When the judge offered Flynn the opportunity to delay his sentencing until his cooperation was complete because “I cannot assure that if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration”, Flynn’s legal team requested a delay in the hopes of a more lenient sentence in the future.
The president, who has had five of his associates plead guilty and facing jail time, has tweeted on multiple occasions calling the investigation a “witch hunt“. Jeff Sessions, who’s own contacts with Russians during the transition forced him to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation, was finally forced out Attorney General. Rod Rosenstein, as deputy AG, has overseen the investigation under continual threat of being dismissed.
2019 will dawn with a lingering threat of obstruction of justice by the president being investigated by Mueller’s team as Trump’s written answers to Mueller’s questions are evaluated. With a Democratic majority in the House and a slim GOP majority in the Senate, the future of Trump’s presidency remains unclear.