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The charges against Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos, explained by veteran prosecutors

Money laundering, tax fraud and lying to the FBI are some of the charges revealed Monday as part of Robert Mueller's probe. Two former federal prosecutors experienced in handling high-stakes investigations -- Peter Zeidenberg and former Justice Department official John Carlin -- join Judy Woodruff to offer a deeper look at the legal details and what they mean going forward.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now a deeper look at the legal details here with two former federal prosecutors experienced in handling high-stakes investigations and prosecutions.

    John Carlin ran the Justice Department’s National Security Division from 2013 to 2016. Before that, he served as chief of staff and senior counsel to then FBI Director Robert Mueller. And Peter Zeidenberg, whose 17 years as a federal prosecutor included time as deputy special counsel in the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity.

    Gentlemen, welcome back to the NewsHour to both of you.

    John Carlin, to start with you, what’s most significant about today’s indictments?

  • John Carlin:

    Well, there are two things that happened today. We have the indictments and then we have the release of a plea agreement and the statement of offense.

    And taking each in turn, so the indictment, what we see today, at least according to the allegations, is that the campaign manager of a major candidate who is now president was secretly taking millions and millions of dollars from the Ukrainian government that was one of Putin’s Russia’s closest allies.

    And just to explain who — for your viewers, who Yanukovych is, this is someone who not only was so close to Russia that, when he was deposed, he fled there in 2014.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • John Carlin:

    But it was him being overthrown that caused Putin’s Russia to invade and seize part of the Ukraine that led to the still-in-effect sanctions. So — and that’s a significance there.

    With Papadopoulos and the plea agreement today, we now know that there is an individual who has been cooperating for months, and that there is someone who was on the campaign, and, while he was on the campaign, was talking to people he knew were in touch with Russian officials to get damaging information about the opposing campaign, including hearing all the way back on April 26, according to the statement of offense, of 2016 that they had thousands of e-mails from Clinton’s campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Peter Zeidenberg, you have had a chance to look at these plea agreements and also the — I’m sorry — the plea agreement and the indictments. What do they say to you?

  • Peter Zeidenberg:

    Well, it says to me they have got a big problem at the White House.

    The Papadopoulos plea agreement suggests that there are at least three individuals that were involved with the campaign that were fully aware of Mr. Papadopoulos’ connection with Russia, and he was advising — he sent an e-mail saying Russia updates.

    And this is after the campaign and the administration has been saying for many, many months no connection with Russia, no collusion, no cooperation, no connection of any kind.

    And now we know that at least three people besides Papadopoulos were aware that he was trying to reach out and, in fact, had reached out to Russian government officials.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the White House — and more to talk about here, but I was struck that the White House today was emphatic, John Carlin, in saying, well, but this happened, in terms of what Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates did, well before the Trump campaign, didn’t have anything to do with what the Trump campaign was doing.

  • John Carlin:

    I will just say, according to the document that we have seen today, that while he was the campaign manager for the Trump campaign — the whole point of the statute that these allegations say that Manafort violated and his aide, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, is to be transparent when you’re receiving money from a foreign government…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • John Carlin:

    … so if you’re acting on their behalf, the American people know.

    And the problem here is that he wasn’t. He wasn’t transparent. And so, in that sense, it’s a big deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we heard his lawyer — we heard Paul Manafort’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, say, well, this has only been used, I think he said, a handful of times in the last many, many decades, and only once successfully.

  • Peter Zeidenberg:

    That is true. It’s a rarely used statute.

    But, man, if you’re going to use it, this is the case to use it for. Here, you have got an enormous amount of money from a country that is trying to influence our election. I mean, this is like a paradigm of why the statute is written, so that if you were going to bring a case, this is the case to bring.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let’s come back to George Papadopoulos and that plea agreement, John Carlin.

    Again, going to the White House’s reaction, they said, well, this is somebody with an extremely limited role, he wanted to do things for the campaign, he kept being turned away.

    So, they’re trying to — I mean, they’re putting as much distance as they can between the campaign and anything he did.

  • John Carlin:

    Well, and not commenting on the White House, but looking at the statement of the offense, it wasn’t just that Papadopoulos, while working as a member of the national security team — and the statement of offense takes pains to point out that he attended a meeting with the president of the United States while working on the campaign in March of that year.

    But it’s also he was reporting what he was doing back up to campaign officials, as Peter points out, at least three officials. They are not named, but it says they were campaign officials, and he’s e-mailing them while he’s talking to these representatives of the Russian government. So there is definitely more to find out there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what does that tell us, Peter Zeidenberg? Are we closer to knowing whether there was collusion?

    And remind everybody what it would mean the to prove collusion, coordination between a campaign…

  • Peter Zeidenberg:

    Well, there’s no legal term of art for collusion.

    The crime, if there was one, would be conspiracy. And this has all the hallmarks of a conspiracy. It’s not charged as a conspiracy, but it certainly wouldn’t be a stretch to say that there is coordination and a goal of getting this information to the campaign.

    He was encouraged by one of these officials to take the meeting in Moscow. And he’d explained that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the campaign officials.

  • Peter Zeidenberg:

    On the — by the campaign officials.

    So, the dots are all lined up. All you got to do is take the pencil and draw the line.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     What does this say to you, John Carlin, about how — I mean, we’re not able to talk to Robert Mueller. I mean, he’s been operating very much behind closed doors. But what does it say to you about his approach to what he has and what he may have going forward?

  • John Carlin:

    Well, I think the one thing that’s clear, as we knew, is that he was going to take the facts where they led, and if anyone could act quickly and assemble a team and bring charges quickly, it’s him.

    These are serious charges. It’s actually a relatively short period of time to bring as substantive an indictment as you see. And when you have someone who’s pled guilty and continuing to cooperate, you can tell there’s more work to do on the investigation.

    But one point I don’t think should be lost is just — we talked about where it might go, but to just take a step as to where we are, before we start changing our expectations as to what’s normal and what is not. This is more information of historic importance that we just haven’t seen before about a Russian campaign, and here another government as well, that ends up influencing our presidential election, our core of what it is to be a democratic country.

    And that’s not partisan. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed across party lines.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Peter Zeidenberg, what do you say to those listening and watching out there who maybe saying, well, it’s just an indictment, it’s just a charge, none of this has been proven?

  • Peter Zeidenberg:

    Actually, Papadopoulos is not just a charge.

    He’s pled guilty and will be cooperating. And it sounds like these are — you know, there’s an e-mail trail that goes on. And I guarantee you that the three campaign advisers have been interviewed. And they may be cooperating as well. They may have corroborated this as well.

    And if they contradicted it, they either may have — they either will be charged or may already have been charged. So, there are a lot more shoes to drop here, for sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Peter Zeidenberg, John Carlin, just the beginning.

    Thank you both very much.

  • John Carlin:

    Thank you.

  • Peter Zeidenberg:

    Thank you.

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