As Grand Jury Issues Indictment, Congress Should Continue Bipartisan Russian Investigations

Statement from POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian

Media Contacts: Danielle Brian, Executive Director at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), dbrian@pogo.org or 202-347-1122; or Tim Farnsworth, Chief Communications Strategist at POGO, tfarnsworth@pogo.org or 202-550-9402.

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, a grand jury indicted Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, a former business associate of Manafort who also worked for the Trump campaign, on multiple charges, including conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as foreign agents, and making false statements. These indictments arise from Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, although the alleged activities took place prior to last year’s election.

In my testimony in July before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, I stated that regardless of what the Mueller investigation is doing, Congress has a responsibility to complete its bipartisan investigations and establish the facts so the American people can regain trust in our electoral system. Congressional investigations can identify areas where current laws are insufficient to protect the public interest and lead to policy reforms, an essential part of Congress’s oversight role. Mueller’s investigations and parallel investigations by Congress are complementary--prosecutors must hold those who have violated the laws accountable and Congress needs to protect the public moving forward.

Today’s indictment points out that the enforcement of our laws are inadequate to ensure foreign influence is kept out of our government. POGO’s investigation into the Foreign Agents Registration Act found that the Justice Department rarely enforces the law and loopholes can make it difficult to determine the extent of wrongdoing. The office relies primarily on “voluntary compliance” and rarely pursues criminal or civil charges when law breaking occurs. By failing to enforce this disclosure law, the Justice Department leaves the door wide open for improper foreign influence. A Special Counsel shouldn’t have to step in to ensure enforcement of this important law.

President Trump has responded to today’s news by saying that the Department of Justice and Congress should instead be focusing their efforts on the Clintons and the sale of a Uranium mining company to Russians during President Obama’s time in office. This is well within the rights of Congress as a co-equal branch of government to look into if any wrongdoing or weaknesses in our current laws. Congress should be capable of conducting several oversight investigations at the same time.  

Even before today’s indictment of Manafort and Gates, there are have been calls for Mueller to stop his investigations, including from The Wall Street Journal, and several individuals associated with the Trump administration. It was also announced today that Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his outreach to Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign. Only Bob Mueller will know when the investigation is complete and he should be awarded the necessary time and space for him to complete the investigation without politicians interfering. The Mueller investigation needs to go its course independent of politics.

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Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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