Former Trump campaign chariman Paul Manafort and his associate Richard Gates were indicted on 12 counts by the U.S. government, all stemming from Robert Mueller's special counsel probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. Election.
One of the best ways to explain this is a tree; there are various branches of people invovled with roots in different places. A lot of details in the investigation have been in the shade, but the indictment offers a lot of new evidence related to Manafort and Gates. That makes them the low-hanging fruit; the FBI's first picks to try and weed out more information in the Russia probe.
"When they're going after a bigger target, generally start at the bottom and they make their cases against people they know they can get at the bottom and they try to get those individuals to cooperate and go up the food chain," explains Winston-Salem defense attorney David Freedman, referring to the federal investigations he's seen in the past.
Freedman says, typically, if you're served with a federal indictment, the case against you is pretty tight. In this case against Manafort and Gates, the money trail seems to be the key. Evidence in the indictment shows various transactions from accounts run by Manafort and Gates that appear to link them to money laundering and working for the Ukrainian government without reporting their roles or earnings to the U.S., which is required by law.
But there's another charge that sticks out: Conspiracy Against the United States. Freedman says this could very well be part of the prosecution's playbook to try and nail someone higher up the tree.
"A lot of times the government will indict on that hoping to give that as a plea bargaining tool, saying listen we've got you on all these things that can put you in prison for the rest of your life. We can let you plead out to one conspiracy to defraud the United States, your exposure is 5 years, but you need to cooperate."
When he says exposure of 5 years, he means a maximum sentence a person could face. And to be clear, Freedman says that's just one scenario of how this could play out. There are many ways this could go. With all charges, Manafort and Gates could both end up in prison for the rest of their lives.
Freedman says he does anticipate some kind of deal to come forward, but at this point both Manafort and Gates are standing their ground, pleading not guilty.
It still remains to be seen what, if anything, the probe will continue to uncover as it pertains to Russia.