The coming week is poised to bring developments in special counsel Robert Mueller ‘s probe into Russian election interference, with the news that former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates has pleaded guilty.
Gates is expected to offer valuable information to Mueller in the criminal case against longtime business associate Paul Manafort , ratcheting up pressure on the former Trump campaign chairman to himself begin cooperating in the investigation.
Manafort, who resigned as Trump’s campaign chair in August 2016, could offer details relevant to Mueller’s broader inquiry into whether there was collusion between campaign associates and Moscow.
Gates pleaded guilty in federal court Friday afternoon to two counts of conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal investigators. The guilty plea is a strong indication he will cooperate in Mueller’s probe.
Together, Gates and Manafort faced a slew of financial-related criminal charges related to their business dealings with pro-Russian forces in Ukraine over the last decade, first unveiled by the special counsel at the end of October. At the time, they both pleaded not guilty.
On Thursday evening, Mueller unveiled a superseding indictment accusing Manafort and Gates of laundering over $30 million that they concealed from the U.S. government. None of the alleged crimes were related to their work for the Trump campaign.
There have been several high-profile developments in Mueller’s investigation in recent weeks. The Gates guilty plea came one week after the special counsel indicted 13 Russians over a scheme to interfere in the 2016 presidential election that involved creating fake American personas and leveraging social media to spread divisive messages with the aim of aiding Trump’s campaign and damaging Democrat Hillary Clinton ‘s.
The indictment made no allegations that Americans were witting participants in the scheme, which dates back to 2014, long before Trump formally announced his campaign for president.
But the issue of potential collusion remains an open question than nine months since Mueller took over the federal investigation into Russian meddling.
“What is still outstanding is questions as to whether there was involvement by the Trump campaign or other Americans in any interference,” Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former U.S. attorney, told The Hill recently. “There’s still a great deal outstanding, and I don’t think there is any reason to believe the investigation is near its end.”
President Trump has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion.
Meanwhile, the coming week could bring fresh details on whether and how the Trump administration will punish Russia for its role in the massive “notPetya” cyberattack that ravaged computer systems throughout the world last June.
The U.S. government followed the United Kingdom in blaming Moscow’s military for the cyberattack earlier this month, describing it as “the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history” and promising international consequences.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that the administration was mulling new sanctions against Russia for the attack, as well as for interfering in the election, according to Reuters.
Lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill after a weeklong break.
Cybersecurity could become a point of focus for lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security Committee as they mark up legislation passed by the House that would reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security for the first time since its creation in the early 2000s.
Among its vast portfolio, Homeland Security is responsible for protecting federal networks and U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber threats.
House Homeland Security Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who spearheaded the bill, has characterized it as crucial to ensuring Homeland Security stays ahead in the new age of threats, including those from malicious cyber actors.
“To stay ahead of America’s threats, we need a national security apparatus that can best adapt to new challenges as they arise. The threats we face have evolved in the past 15 years, and we must not only keep up with the evolution of the threats, we need to stay in front of them,” McCaul said when the bill advanced the House in July.
The bill includes a number of reforms to Homeland Security’s operations, including some that affect its cybersecurity mission. For instance, the bill aims to bolster information sharing between Homeland Security and state and local officials as well as the private sector on cyber threats. It also looks to specifically address cyber threats to U.S. ports by ensuring operators have a plan that addresses cybersecurity.
The Senate panel will consider the bill on Wednesday morning. They are also expected to vote on the nominee to serve as inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community, Michael Atkinson.
Across the Capitol, it is likely to be another active week for the House Intelligence Committee.
One could see developments related to the classified memo drafted by the committee’s top Democrat, which offers a point-by-point rebuttal of the GOP memo released in early February that alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the bureau have been going back and forth working through changes on the memo this month. The California lawmaker said recently they are “very close to reaching an agreement on it.” It is still not entirely clear, however, if President Trump will sign-off on its release. The White House has repeatedly insisted the sources and methods in the 10-page document need to be redacted for it to be made public.
There could also be clues as to whether the committee plans to enforce the subpoena issued against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon , who sparked bipartisan furor for refusing to provide answers to anything outside of 25 White House “scripted” questions during his second interview as part of the committee’s Russia probe.
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