BY: TANNER KENNEY
What: Synopsis of Today’s Justice Dept. Indictments Regarding 2016 Election Interference Indictments
When: February 20th, 2018
On Monday morning, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections issued new charges directly related to Friday’s indictments and other ongoing investigations. The Justice Department charged attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan, the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, with lying to FBI agents. As of 3:45pm EST, the attorney has pleaded guilty to those charges.
Van Der Zwaan was accused of misleading FBI officials about the details of a conversation he took part in with former Trump Campaign aide Rick Gates and, perhaps most interestingly, another individual identified as “Person A” – not with the same politically-charged allegations of conspiracy that were levied last week by the Justice Department.
The crime apparently took place during an interview with FBI agents regarding the phone call and not necessarily during the conversation, although Van Der Zwaan intentionally recorded the call. No additional information was provided about the identity of “Person A.” Given that Gates, himself, is preparing to plead guilty to charges of financial impropriety directly connected to the aforementioned indictments against his former boss and mentor, Paul Manafort, it is apparent that the Special Counsel’s investigation is entering its public-facing phase: adjudication.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, the priorities of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation will become clearer as these indictments and guilty pleas begin to form a larger, more cohesive case in the public eye, resulting in more of the same – the unravelling of a Russian propaganda-machine targeting American democracy.
At first, those in positions of power in the U.S. with the most to lose will begin to operate in a more animated fashion to signal their intentions more broadly, namely in demonstrating loyalty to the president and his administration or proclaiming a desire to remain neutral in order to maintain the ability to work in public office or elsewhere.
But even before these alleged crimes – and those as-yet enumerated by the Justice Department – are prosecuted, what is at stake for the United States cannot be overstated as the very democracy by which it functions is in danger, from both inside and out. This fact has been evident since the commencement of the 2016 election campaign-cycle in that the political discourse throughout society at-large turned sour, hateful, and vengeful.
The unmasking – a term now-hated by many political pundits – of the Russian-based schema to subvert the American democratic process via campaigns of disinformation and aggravation could be aptly applied to the process by which the public learned about the true intent of the Internet Research Agency, LLC (IRA), however slow the process has been.
American citizens have been slowly fed the facts regarding the modus operandi of the IRA, which relies on American media giants such as Facebook and Twitter to sow discord online via discussion boards, ‘fake news,’ and sensational headlines that have little-to-do-with actual events as well as in-person events and meetups, some of which never even took place.
However, what remains to be seen are the methods the Special Counsel’s team will utilize to prosecute its ultimate target(s). In compelling potential culprits and witnesses, alike, to testify for the prosecution, Mueller’s team can take several paths simultaneously. From a financial standpoint, the Justice Department can use the RICO statutes to adjudicate the felonies Paul Manafort and his associates are accused of whilst compelling witnesses in a particular case to testify through plea-bargaining with those accused of procedural crimes such as Van Der Zwaan. Lastly, the identity of “Person A” remains unknown at this time. The coming days and months will continue to shed light on different aspects of the interference in the 2016 elections, including the cryptic identity of “Person A”.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.