Experts are debating what to make of several sealed cases on the D.C. federal court docket between ex-Trump adviser George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea and the indictment weeks later of former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his assistant Rick Gates.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty Oct. 5 to lying to the FBI, and there appear to be at least four currently sealed cases on the docket between then and the Oct. 27 indictment of Manafort and Gates for money laundering and related crimes involving pre-2016 Ukrainian political work.
USA Today reporter Steve Reilly sent speculation viral with a docket screenshot retweeted nearly 12,000 times after Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Monday unveiling of the first charges from his inquiry into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
National security journalist Marcy Wheeler tweeted that the docket suggests “maybe [former national security advisor Mike] Flynn has already flipped.”
“Very plausible,” Popehat blogger Ken White, a former assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in response to Wheeler’s theory. Jesselyn Radack, a defense attorney in many high-profile national security cases, said she’s inclined to agree with Wheeler, though called it an educated guess.
Barry Pollack, an attorney at Miller & Chevalier and past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said, however, that “there is no way of knowing.”
Pollack, whose clients have included WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange and former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, said: “indictments are routinely sealed until the defendant is arrested and brought into court.”
“These could be routine drug cases,” Pollack said. “That said, it is entirely possible that some or all of them were brought by the special prosecutor.”
Lionel André, assistant U.S. attorney in D.C. for nearly two decades before joining the firm Murphy & McGonigler this year, said that in his experience cases are generally sealed prior to arrests.
But André also said it is possible other sealed cases are related to Mueller’s probe, or that more will come.
“Assuming the big case goes to trial, this would probably be separate, because it includes money laundering and tax evasion,” he said of the Manafort-Gates indictment.
U.S. District Court for D.C. has four sealed cases in its docket with case numbers between Papadopoulos' (182) and Manafort's (201). pic.twitter.com/zDKMY3qHM6— Steve Reilly (@BySteveReilly) October 30, 2017
“He may have just charged the Manafort-Gates conduct so he could continue his investigation into the other matter,” said John Pierce, a defense attorney at Themis PLLC who spent 14 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego, northern Virginia, and D.C.
“A defendant does not have a right to have all charges brought against him in the same document,” Pierce said.
In addition to uncertainty about the four sealed cases — one of which is docketed as number 200 — one spot ahead of Manafort-Gates at 201, there’s a question about why the indictment against Manafort and Gates is labeled “Indictment B”.
There are multiple theories to explain what “Indictment A” may be. The easiest explanation it had a typo or citation error that was merely corrected in Indictment B. But theoretically, it could indicate a separate indictment dealing with other matters not covered in Indictment B.
Carol Elder Bruce, a defense attorney at firm Murphy & McGonigle who worked a decade as an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C., said speculation about the what “B” means may be overblown.
“My guess is that it is a superseding indictment,” she said, and “that there were some errors in the first one filed that needed correcting or the special counsel wanted to add or delete allegations. In other words, it does not signify to me that it must be a part of a string of sealed indictments that came down in the same grand jury matter.”
The clerk’s office for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was unable to clarify what Indictment A contains, saying the office was unable to access the information Tuesday afternoon. The docket also was not accessible via the online court document portal PACER, despite the fact that the Manafort-Gates indictment was unsealed Monday.
Mueller’s office declined to comment on whether other cases involving its investigation remain under seal.