Long before an indictment is handed down by a grand jury, criminal prosecutors spend hours poring over every angle of the case.
In my time with the Department working on white-collar crime, I heard discussion of collateral consequences on every floor. For cases against corporate defendants, there is the potential for an economic “domino effect” – taking one company to court means losses for its shareholders, layoffs for its workers, and the potential to damage an entire industry. While health care fraud and the Deepwater Horizon disaster had little else in common, both prosecutorial teams commonly discussed how domestic and international markets could be affected by the indictment of a powerful company. The risk of economic catastrophe might lead prosecutors and CEOs to seek other remedies for alleged illegal activity. As a result, prosecutors often acted as policymakers, calculating the potential aftermath of their actions on the broader landscape.
It is no surprise then, that Robert Mueller’s team is comprised of attorneys with significant experience in the policy world. Aside from their expertise with financial crimes, the team may be looking at potential defendants through a shared framework—one in which the collateral consequences of any action will extend far beyond the American justice system. These prosecutors see just how high the stakes are: while a typical corporate case can have global economic ramifications, the Trump-Russia investigations are a matter of international security.
The Mueller team’s joint announcement about the indictments of both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates (in addition to the cooperation of George Papadopoulos) is a clear signal that prosecutors are calculating their every move, including the anticipated global reaction. Papadopoulos had previously pled guilty, but the team chose to keep the cooperation a secret. The concurrent announcement of these three defendants lends an inherent legitimacy to the Mueller investigation. In the U.S., confidence in the Russia probe soared after the indictments were released—you can bet that the Mueller team is considering the international response, as well and calibrating their strategy accordingly.
Mr. Mueller’s investigation may end in disaster for the President—and for U.S. relationships with multilateral institutions, allies, and rivals. I have confidence that his team recognizes these risks, which may foreshadow the extent of the Trump team’s future legal woes. This group of prosecutors, who share an acute awareness of the far-reaching consequences of their investigation, have yet to be deterred by those consequences. This suggests that they believe the alleged crimes they may uncover are important enough to outweigh those concerns. All global citizens should stay tuned.