With the trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort finally getting underway this week, CNN exclusively reported Wednesday morning that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has referred a few more cases to New York federal prosecutors that yet again don’t have any connection to Donald Trump’s supposed “collusion” with Russia.
The new cases involve some “high-profile American lobbyists and operatives,” including a former Obama advisor, who are connected to firms that came up in Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, who is being charged with crimes not connected to the Trump campaign or collusion.
According to sources familiar with the cases, the lobbyists and operatives “failed to register their work as foreign agents,” CNN reports.
Similar allegations have been made against Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, who have both been charged with failing to register as foreign agents regarding their work over a span of about a decade for the pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine. Manafort has pleaded not guilty, while Gates has pleaded guilty.
CNN notes that Mueller’s decision to turn the cases over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York follows his decision to do the same with the case against Trump’s former “fixer,” Michael Cohen, another case that does not involve “Russian collusion.” CNN reports:
Since the spring, Mueller has referred matters to SDNY involving longtime Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta and his work for his former firm, the Podesta Group, and former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber and his work for Mercury Public Affairs, the sources said.
One source said that former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, a former partner at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, is also part of the inquiry.
CNN underscores that none of the entities involved in the investigations have actually been charged with any wrongdoing, “and there is no indication the SDNY inquiry will result in criminal charges.”
Mueller’s focus on issues outside the original mandate of the investigation, CNN suggests, will likely add more fuel to the fire of the Trump camp’s complaints that the “collusion” investigation has gone off the rails:
Mueller has come under scrutiny from Trump and others for what they perceive as the special counsel’s examination of matters beyond the scope of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election cycle, and Mueller’s referral of cases that aren’t closely linked to that central matter could be a way of insulating the special counsel probe from such backlash, people familiar with the situation said.