US FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s 31-page indictment of former Trump campaign manger Paul Manafort and former Trump aide Richard Gates carefully lays out a pattern of deception, a trail of unreported assets, and a history of lavish spending.
But there’s one glaring omission—the Trump name. There’s no mention of Manafort’s onetime employer Donald Trump, the Trump campaign, or even the apartment in Trump Tower that Manafort purchased in 2006 for all cash, just as he did apartments in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan. Other real estate deals get close scrutiny in the indictment—the apartments were used as collateral for loans that Manafort used to fund his heavy-handed spending on clothing, antiques, and other real estate.
Manafort’s work managing the campaign from April to August of 2016, and the mysterious weakening of the GOP’s Ukraine platform during that time are not mentioned. Neither is Manafort’s presence at a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, set up after Russians offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, and in which Manafort is believed to have taken copious notes.
The fact that the indictment doesn’t even mention the name “Trump” once is certainly deliberate, but doesn’t mean that Trump is entirely clear of any FBI attention in the future. The special counsel’s role has become highly politicized, with some Republicans calling in recent days for him to step down.
With that backdrop, it makes sense that the indictment sticks to certain facts that support the specific charges against Manafort and Gates. The charges are hard for anyone, no matter their party, to argue shouldn’t be prosecuted—conspiring against the US, fraud, money laundering, failure to file financial reports of various kinds, and making false statements under oath. There is a long list of alleged shady actions, lies and omissions that will keep the defendants’ lawyers busy, and no need to muddy the already very murky waters by mentioning the president.
The indictment, in other words, is not the whole political story; it simply represents federal criminal charges against two individuals who also happen to have worked to get the president elected.
Federal rules of criminal procedure state: “The indictment or information must be a plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged and must be signed by an attorney for the government. It need not contain a formal introduction or conclusion.” In other words, this is just the tl;dr. It ties charges to the facts that support them and the laws underlying them, and that’s it. In fact, the rules provides that “surplusage” can be struck from an indictment if a defendant moves for it. Talk of Trump in this context could be deemed surplusage and isn’t necessary to support the charges.