INDICTMENTS IN THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
INDICTMENTS IN THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
For the last few months Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller (former FBI Director) has been investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. Late yesterday (Friday) the media announced sealed indictments were handed down by a federal grand jury involved in the investigation. Mr. Mueller’s mission is not only to look into Russian interference into the election, but also investigate any other issues which may arise during the course of the primary investigation. The indictments could be unsealed as early as Monday and we will know who was indicted and what crimes they were charged with. There could be more than one defendant and more than one count or charge, possibly including a federal conspiracy charge.
The indictment could charge violations such as money laundering or tax violations, lying to federal agents, or failure to disclose activities with foreign entities, just to name a few possibilities. The list of people who may be indicted is long. The issuance of this indictment or indictments does not signal the end of this investigation, it is the beginning of “Phase 2”.
Releasing information to the media late on a Friday is sometimes referred to as “document dumping”. The theory behind document dumping is that people don’t watch the news as much over the weekend because they are busy with other things and you can sneak bad news in without as much notice or publicity. The existence of the indictment could have been leaked by someone involved in the investigation, a defense attorney, someone who works in the federal courthouse, or even an eavesdropper who overheard a conversation about the charges. We had been investigating a murder for several years and one afternoon I got a phone call from a deputy sheriff congratulating us for getting an indictment in the case. He just happened to be in the courthouse and found out a special session of the grand jury had been called and a sealed indictment had been handed down charging a man with the murder. The funny thing was, I had no idea what he was talking about! Frankly, I didn’t think it was too funny at all that they had purposefully gone behind my back and presented the case to the grand jury. It turned out they had indicted the wrong man and later another man was charged and convicted of the murder.
Instead of trying to avoid a lot of exposure by timing the indictment to be handed down late on a Friday, we think there could be another reason in this instance. Producing an indictment on Friday gives those who may be, or have been, involved in illegal activities at least two days to stress and try and figure out what is going on. It may be Monday before their questions can be answered because it is hard to get in touch government prosecutors or investigators over the weekend and ask questions. The worst feeling in the world sometimes can be “not knowing”. It can create a great deal of stress and in many cases mistrust among those who are involved in the conspiracy. People become afraid to talk to others, even old friends or relatives, because nobody can really be sure who may be cooperating with authorities. We were working a drug case and we discovered one of the main “dopers”, John, was directing other dealers (his buddies) to retain a certain lawyer. It just happened to be John’s lawyer. The lawyer told the other defendants to keep their mouth shut while, unbeknown to the other dopers, John was cooperating with us! The fact that John was the only one talking made his testimony more valuable and gave him more leverage when he was cutting a deal for himself. When we discovered what was going on we reported the lawyer’s activity to the Court of the Judiciary since it was probably an ethics violation.
There is a good possibility the defendant(s) know they have been indicted and may have known for some time they were going to be indicted. They may have already been cooperating with the investigation. My boss and I were at the state legislature when a state senator approached us and began a conversation about some piece of legislation involving law enforcement. It had been rumored this senator had some issues involving a federal investigation. When he began to walk away, my boss and I gave him a friendly pat on the back. We immediately looked at one another because when we patted his back, we felt a “wire”. He was walking through the legislature taping conversations in cooperation with the ongoing investigation. Don’t be surprised if some of that type of stuff is going on right now in this case.
When folks start getting indicted or arrested, it can give investigators more ammunition in questioning people. Sometimes agents can indicate the defendants who have been arrested have confessed and implicated others. The investigators may run a bluff and act like they have more evidence than they actually possess. This tactic may convince other conspirators to come forward and tell the truth. If investigators and prosecutors handle it right, no one will really know exactly the extent of the prosecution’s knowledge.
The issuance of an indictment demonstrates the seriousness of the matter. You can bet there have been many conversations in which some people were reassuring their buddies that nothing will come from this investigation and there is nothing to worry about. Director Mueller just sent out the message that he ain’t playing. An indictment may also deter flight by the defendant. It can induce a defendant to get legal counsel or change lawyers. Interestingly, sometimes when a defendant or a suspect gets a good lawyer it may be to the prosecution’s advantage. A lot of people believe the only way to deal with the police is to clam up and not talk. A good attorney may take a look at the evidence against their client and understand the best thing is to “cut a deal” and cooperate with authorities. This can be a win/win situation for both the police and the defendant.
The author, Jim Leach, formerly served as Director of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. His first book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing”, can be found at Amazon.com