Special Counsel Robert Mueller and U.S. prosecutors are far from finished in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump’s campaign, and his business and political circle, judging by recent court filings. But by the end of this week, some key early chapters will come closer to resolution.
Among the questions that may be answered in the coming days: Will Maria Butina change her plea to guilty, and could that reveal more about her Kremlin ties and associates? Will a high-profile and mysterious individual be forced to testify in front of Mueller’s grand jury?
Here’s a look at a busy few days in filings and hearings in Mueller’s investigation and others that touch on Trump, his business and Russian interference in the elections.
Dec. 11: Manafort’s Big Decision
Will Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, fight Mueller’s claims that he blew up his plea deal by lying repeatedly, or will he proceed quietly to sentencing on March 5?
That’s what Manafort’s lawyers will reveal when they appear Tuesday with Mueller’s prosecutors before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington. If they do seek to challenge the claims, details that were referenced — but redacted — in filings about how Manafort misled investigators could be made public. Mueller said broadly that Manafort lied about contacting a senior Trump administration official this year. Prosecutors also said he wasn’t truthful about his ties to Konstantin Kilimnik, his longtime translator and fixer in Ukraine. Mueller has said Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.
Then Jackson would have to decide whether Manafort breached his plea deal by telling “multiple discernible lies” as a cooperator with Mueller, prosecutors said last week.
Manafort is in jail and won’t attend the hearing, but the proceedings may shed light on the mystery of what he’s hiding and why.
Will Flynn Say More About His Cooperation?
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, will respond in court Tuesday to a recommendation by Mueller that he avoid prison. The favorable filing last week means he’ll already have the prosecutors on his side when he’s sentenced on Dec. 18.
Flynn’s lawyers must decide if they’ll use the filing to say more about 19 debriefings that prosecutors say constitute Flynn’s “substantial assistance” to the Special Counsel’s investigation. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador during the Trump transition and his undeclared lobbying for Turkey.
Mueller said Flynn is cooperating in three investigations, including providing “firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials.” Will Flynn’s lawyers shed light on any of those cases, his interactions with Trump, or his dealings with Turkey? Will they discuss what motivated this former lieutenant general to lie to the FBI?
Dec. 12: Butina Hearing May Yield More on Russian Influence
Will Butina, who’s accused of acting as unregistered Russian agent, hand Mueller more information on Russian interference or keep her mouth shut? That will become clearer when she appears in court Wednesday and is expected to plead guilty.
Butina, the 30-year-old Russian gun-rights activist, ingratiated herself with leaders of the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party even as she was a graduate student at American University.
Her Russian mentor was Alexander Torshin, a senior government official with alleged criminal ties, who sought connections to U.S. political leaders and organizations, the FBI charged. Before the 2016 election, Butina emerged as a kind of gadfly, and she asked Donald Trump at a Las Vegas forum whether he’d improve U.S.-Russia relations if he was elected. Trump said he would.
A guilty plea by Butina would raise several questions:
Will she cooperate with the Justice Department? What prompted several NRA leaders to visit Moscow in late 2015 as guests of Butina and her gun-rights group? What more can she say about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election? If she doesn’t cooperate, will she return to Russia in a prisoner exchange, as 10 other “sleeper agents” did after pleading guilty in 2010?
Cohen’s Big Day in Court
Will Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, be sentenced Wednesday to years in prison?
New York federal prosecutors recommended a sentence of at least three-and-a-half years for Cohen because his financial and campaign-finance crimes showed a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” Those prosecutors rejected his request for no jail time as unacceptable because he wasn’t a cooperating witness.
As part of Mueller’s investigation, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s business plans in Russia. The Special Counsel said Cohen revealed plenty about Trump’s business plans in Moscow during his seven debriefings, and he deserves credit for that.
The Cohen sentencing could be the week’s most dramatic event. In addition to learning his sentence, Cohen could express what motivated him, direct comments at the president, or even reveal new details of his work on behalf of Trump.
Dec. 14: Who is the Mystery Witness in Washington?
The federal appeals court in Washington will hear arguments Friday involving a grand jury subpoena that may or may not be related to the Mueller investigation. Those arguments will take place before a three-judge panel in a sealed courtroom.
The media will be scrutinizing who enters the court for any clues as to the identity of the mysterious witness.