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What a speaking indictment is, and why it could hurt Trump



robert mueller
Special counsel Robert

Yuri Gripas /

  • The special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia
    investigation has been quiet in recent weeks to avoid
    influencing the midterms.
  • But by all indications, the probe is moving full-speed
    ahead behind the scenes.
  • Over the course of the investigation, Mueller has made
    use of a tool prosecutors call “speaking indictments,” a
    lengthy charging document that contains far more information
    and details than is required by law.
  • Mueller issued speaking indictments when charging
    Russian intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic
    National Committee, as well as former Trump campaign chairman
    Paul Manafort.
  • Legal experts say he will likely employ the same
    tactics when he puts out a report about others implicated in
    the investigation, including President Donald

The special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian
interference in the 2016 election has been relatively quiet in the
run-up to the November midterm elections.

But by all indications, the probe is still moving
full-speed ahead. 

Mueller, the former FBI director whose colleagues describe him as
a by-the-book prosecutor, is notoriously secretive about the
behind-the-scenes activity of the probe, running an investigation
with few leaks and only providing public updates on the case
through formal indictments and court filings. 

Over the course of the investigation, Mueller has made use of a
tool prosecutors call “speaking indictments” to bolster his case
that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in favor of President
Donald Trump, and that members of the campaign broke the law.

Read more:

former federal prosecutor thinks Mueller’s quiet period before
the midterms may not have been so quiet after all

A “speaking indictment” is a document that criminally charges one
or more defendants in a given jurisdiction and includes much more detailed
information about the crimes than is required by law.

Speaking indictments can be particularly useful in a complex,
high-profile case like the Mueller probe to give as much context
possible for the defendants, the members of the grand jury
convened to hear testimony and hand down indictments, and the

The special counsel’s 29-page indictment in July of 12 Russian
military intelligence officers is an example of such an
indictment. It contained far more facts and information than is
required to prosecute the case.

It goes into painstaking detail, describing point-by-point
how the alleged hackers targeted and successfully obtained emails
and records from the Democratic National Committee and the
Clinton campaign, falsified their identities, and laundered money
via cryptocurrency networks to carry out their scheme.

The special counsel employed the same tactic when he indicted
former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former deputy
campaign chairman Rick Gates last year.

Paul Manafort
Angerer/Getty Images

“If you look at the cases that are being brought, they’ve laid
out an astounding campaign to undermine our democracy in detail,”
said one former DOJ official who worked with Mueller when he was
FBI director. The official requested anonymity because they
didn’t have direct knowledge of the investigation’s proceedings.

“These indictments leave very little up for debate — they include
names, dates, times, bank accounts — and it’s a way for Mueller
and his team to make sure their case against the defendant is air
tight,” the official said.

Legal experts say speaking indictments can
serve not only as a roadmap for how the prosecution intends to
argue their case, but also as a way to educate the public.

Mueller is known to be investigating Trump for obstruction of
justice. The president is also a key figure in the collusion
thread of the Russia investigation.

Even if Mueller has evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Trump’s
part, experts say it’s unlikely he will move to indict the
president, because current DOJ policy says a sitting president
cannot be indicted.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Mueller will treat the facts

“Mueller will lay out as much as he feels is necessary to not
only meet his legal requirements but also inform the public,”
said Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who
spent 12 years at the DOJ. “Likewise, any report to [deputy
attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia
probe] which will make its way to Congress and the public will
lay out in detail the full extent of any relevant evidence.”

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