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THREAD: What does the recent revelation that Paul Manafort provided internal polling data from the Trump campaign with an alleged Russian intelligence operative tell us? (A lot.)
1/ This week we learned that Paul Manafort provided Trump campaign internal polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller has previously identified as a Russian intelligence operative. This is the most significant Russia-related evidence we've seen. nytimes.com/2019/01/08/us/…
2/ (That's why I'm writing this thread now, even though the news broke earlier this week. I was busy with work for clients this week, but I think this news is too important to lose in the news cycle.)

So why is this such an important development?
3/ Until this week, based solely on what we know publicly, the most significant criminal liability for Trump has been obstruction of justice (readily provable based on public evidence) and campaign finance felonies (federal prosecutors found he directed Cohen to commit them).
4/ Yet the Mueller investigation is seen by the public as an investigation into "collusion," a term that has no legal meaning in this context. It appears to refer to an alleged conspiracy between the Kremlin and Trump associates to undermine our election.
5/ Until this week, based solely on publicly available evidence, it was unclear how or whether Mueller could prove a Trump associate committed a crime resembling "collusion." Now, even @ShepNewsTeam and @Judgenap of @FoxNews think there was "collusion." theweek.com/speedreads-amp….
6/ I'm not going to discuss whether or not there was "collusion" because it means nothing as a legal matter. But it is now easy to see how Mueller could prove a crime that resembles collusion. So let's talk about how Manafort's activity could be part of a federal crime.
7/ As a starting point, the obvious implication to draw from Manafort's activity is nefarious. Why would the campaign chair of a major party presidential candidate provide internal polling data to a Russian intelligence operative? An obvious implication is he wanted Russian help.
8/ To be clear, it is not illegal in and of itself to prove internal polling data to a Russian operative, as Giuliani pointed out today. But it's often the case that actions that are not themselves a crime are part of a crime. nydailynews.com/news/politics/…
9/ For example, wearing a ski mask while walking into a bank is not a crime, but robbing a bank is a federal crime. (I made this same argument at a trial when I was a federal prosecutor—transcript below.)
10/ There are potential non-criminal explanations for Manafort's actions. For example, Manafort was owed a lot of money by the oligarchs, so his lawyers could argue that he provided the data to show that his influence was valuable because Trump had a path to victory.
11/ That's hardly surprising. After all, there are also innocent reasons to wear a ski mask into a bank! No case is proven with a single exhibit.

So let's examine what potential crimes Manafort could be guilty of, how this evidence fits in, and what Mueller would need to prove.
12/ (I discussed this at length with @Mimirocah1 in the new #OnTopic podcast that was released today. I'm summarizing this part of our discussion here because I think it's so important.)
13/ The most obvious potential liability for Manafort stems from Mueller's indictment of Russian operatives for defrauding the United States by "interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016." justice.gov/file/1035477/d…
14/ Manafort is guilty of "aiding and abetting" the Russian criminal conspiracy if he knew about the criminal activity and helped make it succeed. It's not hard to see how this new evidence helps prove that--the internal polling data could have helped the Russians target voters.
15/ The big question, however, is whether Mueller could prove that Manafort knew about the Russian conspiracy before he provided the polling data. Knowledge is always the hardest thing to prove, and there is no *direct* evidence of Manafort's knowledge in the public record.
16/ In other words, there is no verbal or written statement of Manafort indicating his knowledge of the Russian conspiracy in the public record. (That doesn't mean Mueller doesn't possess it.) But prosecutors could try to piece together circumstantial evidence to prove knowledge.
17/ During our discussion in the new #OnTopic podcast, @Mimirocah1 concluded that there *was* enough public evidence to prove Manafort's knowledge of the Russian conspiracy through circumstantial evidence, by inferring it from what we do know about Manafort's Russian ties.
18/ I disagree with her -- there is not enough *public* evidence to prove knowledge -- but the fact that a serious former federal prosecutor like Mimi could credibly make that argument speaks volumes about the power of this week's revelation.
19/ (I'm aware that many analysts speculate that Mueller could prove many things, by what appears to be speculating about potential evidence far beyond what we know publicly. I find that speculation to have little value.)
20/ While aiding and abetting is Manafort's most serious potential liability, this week's revelation suggests two other potential charges. First, Manafort could also be guilty of joining the Russian criminal conspiracy if he agreed to play some role in their criminal effort.
21/ Mueller would not need to prove that Manafort knew about everyone involved in the Russian influence operation, or that he took part in every part of the conspiracy. But he would have to prove that Manafort knew about the criminal activity and agreed to play some role in it.
22/ That can be harder to prove than Manafort's mere knowledge of the Russian conspiracy. Mueller would have to prove that in addition to knowing about the effort, Manafort joined the conspiracy in some fashion. Aiding and abetting is an easier fit here.
23/ Second, Mueller could potentially prove that Manafort offered to trade a public act (like lifting sanctions) in exchange for something of value (like helping Trump win). This would require the most evidence beyond what we know publicly.
24/ So let's go back to aiding and abetting for a moment. The penalty for aiding and abetting is the same as the underlying crime. So Manafort would face the same punishment for this crime as the Russians would for undermining our election.
25/ It wouldn't matter as to Manafort, who is already facing what amounts to a life sentence. But it helps explain why he might have lied about this matter, and helps explain why it was important to Mueller.
26/ If others worked with Manafort to aid the Russian effort, and knew about what the Russians were doing, they would be guilty as well, and Manafort's cooperation deal obligated him to cooperate against those other individuals.
27/ The bottom line is this--for the first time, publicly available evidence brings us close to proving that a close Trump associate committed a crime by aiding Russian influence efforts. That is a very big deal and it should change our expectations going forward. /end
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