Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators looking into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election have been famously tight-lipped about their work.
With some rare exceptions, court filings are typically the only occasions in which news gets out about the latest developments in Mueller’s probe — which has already racked up over 100 criminal charges against dozens of people, including guilty pleas from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, former campaign manager, and multiple former advisers.
One of those former Trump advisers is Rick Gates, the president’s 2016 deputy campaign chairman who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy against the U.S. and making false statements to the FBI.
When Mueller’s team, which contains “a vast array of experience investigating financial fraud, corruption, money laundering, foreign bribery, organized crime, and more,” updates the courts on the status of cooperating witnesses like Gates, it provides a timeframe for the next notice.
In the special counsel’s last filing regarding Gates, which was made on August 10, another update was promised within 90 days.
Meanwhile, on a related note: The lawyers in Rick Gates’ case in DC filed the latest status report. They’re asking for another 90 days until the next update — he pleaded guilty, and agreed to postpone sentencing while he’s cooperating with Mueller’s office pic.twitter.com/3hEAWrP4qJ
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) August 10, 2018
Note that the August “Joint Status Report” mentions Gates’ continued cooperation in “the investigation.”
Fast-forward to Wednesday, and Mueller’s team provided its promised 90-day update on Gates.
NEW: Mueller's team says that Rick Gates continues to cooperate and they're not ready for him to be sentenced. Ask for another status report in January. pic.twitter.com/6Qw8kUFqH4
— Chad Day (@ChadSDay) November 14, 2018
The primary takeaway from the latest filing was that Mueller’s investigation seems likely to stretch into 2019, having submitted a request for 60 more days.
However, on Wednesday night’s edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, the ever-astute host noticed something new: The new update from Mueller’s team now mentions Gates’ cooperation in “several ongoing investigations,” a change from the singular “investigation” in August’s filing.
So 90 days ago the investigation Rick Gates was helping Mueller's team with was ongoing. "The investigation." Now, today, it's "several" investigations. pic.twitter.com/IHPsw6sh1s
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) November 15, 2018
After a period in which the Mueller team stayed largely out of the news — the better to not influence or interfere with the midterm elections, a standard policy for the Justice Department that former FBI director James Comey ignored during the 2016 presidential election — it appears as though the Russia investigation is heating back up. One day after the midterms, in fact, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with Matthew Whitaker, who has advocated for limiting or shutting down the special counsel’s probe.
Elsewhere, it came to light that Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone reportedly knew about WikiLeaks’ plans to release stolen information from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign before the organization — which the U.S. intelligence community assessed with “high confidence” is linked to Russian intelligence — started doing so in October 2016.
And Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, has apparently told friends he is very worried about getting indicted for his role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian agent in June 2016, reportedly citing concerns about what Gates might disclose.
According to a March filing by Mueller’s team, Gates was “directly communicating” with a former Russian intelligence official in the months before the 2016 election. Gates testified about the “crimes” he committed with his ex-business partner, former 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, in the trial that resulted in Manafort’s conviction on charges of tax and bank fraud. Manafort later reached a plea deal with Mueller’s investigation.
Earlier this month, it was revealed Trump signed a secret waiver that would prevent Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who used to work for the law firm that is representing the president’s campaign in the Russia probe, from having to recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation in the event that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is fired.
Trump’s ongoing attempts to discredit the investigation led by Mueller will meet new obstacles in the weeks to come, with the new Democratic House majority providing what protection for the special counsel it can.
In the meantime, Mueller’s team has reportedly started to write its final report.