The week that could unlock several of special counsel Mueller’s most tantalizing mysteries

PBS NewsHour / YouTube What Robert Mueller brings to the...
PBS NewsHour / YouTube

The next five days are chock-full of court deadlines that will reveal some of the cards special counsel Robert Mueller has held so close to his vest, according to Politico. Between the final sentencing for former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, a trial date announcement for longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, and status reports for two of Mueller’s most important cooperating witnesses (Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates), a picture will begin to crystallize of how and when Mueller plans to bring the Russia probe to a close.

Manafort is set to be sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, following his insanely short four-year sentence last week on eight criminal counts of financial fraud. Berman has also been handling Stone’s case and she will be weighing a sentence of up to 10 years for Manafort on charges regarding his work as an unregistered foreign lobbyist for Ukraine, money laundering, witness tampering, and breaking the terms of his plea agreement. Berman will not only decide the length of Manafort’s sentencing for these crimes, but also whether he should serve the time concurrently with his other sentence.

While Manafort’s sentencing will bring closure to Mueller’s most high-profile court battle to date, Stone’s trial date—to be set Thursday—could actually hold a key to some of the biggest mysteries regarding the Russia probe. Stone is charged with lying to Congress about his 2016  contacts with WikiLeaks, the site that publicly released tranches of Russian-hacked emails damaging to the Clinton campaign. Mueller is requesting an October trial date and the team of prosecutors includes two Washington-based U.S. attorneys to whom Mueller could ultimately hand off the prosecution.

Whereas the crimes Manafort was convicted of were peripheral to the central question of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts, Stone’s crimes revolve around the far more central question of what the Trump campaign knew about Russian hacks, when they knew it, and who specifically knew it. On Thursday, Berman will also issue her ruling regarding how to handle Stone repeatedly violating the terms of his gag order in the case.

But the status reports scheduled March 13 for Flynn and March 15 for Gates may provide the biggest clues yet about Mueller’s endgame.

Flynn’s sentencing has suffered repeated setbacks as prosecutors continued to mine him for information, and a federal judge suggested to his legal team last December that waiting it out might be his best course of action. Mueller’s team has given Flynn glowing reviews on his level of help to date.

But Gates’ dual key roles on the Trump campaign and transition team continue to make him a potential gold mine for prosecutors, especially as inquiries into Trump’s campaign and inaugural committee have heated up in the Southern District of New York. Mueller’s team has asked for sentencing delays on Gates four consecutive times based on his input in several investigations. Friday’s status report could bring clarity as to whether Gates’ cooperation continues to be critical to prosecutors, and on which inquiries.

“Generally if you are the prosecutor, you want to keep them on the hook,” former Gates defense attorney Annemarie McAvoy told Politico. “Once they’re sentenced they have a lot less incentive to help.”

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Markm Mitchell
Markm Mitchell