Last October, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Paul Manafort on nine counts, all related to his past work for Ukrainian politicians and the millions of dollars he got from that work. (He’s pleaded not guilty.)
But Mueller may not be stopping there. His investigators have also been scrutinizing some $16 million in loans Manafort got after the 2016 election — and are looking into whether Manafort promised his lender a Trump administration job in return, according to a report Wednesday by NBC News’s Tom Winter and Hallie Jackson.
Mueller alluded to the loans in a court filing Friday, during deliberations over Manafort’s bail package. He wrote that he’d learned of “additional criminal conduct” from Manafort, including “a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” And he wrote that Manafort had gotten those particular loans “through a series of false and fraudulent representations.”
Additionally, Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported Wednesday that Mueller has filed new, sealed charges in the case against Manafort and Rick Gates. This new charging document isn’t yet public, and it’s not clear whom or what it’s about. But these loans seem one obvious possibility.
Manafort got $16 million in loans from a bank headed by a Trump adviser after the election
Manafort’s post-election loans have long seemed curious. An excellent report by the New York Times’s Mike McIntire from nearly a year ago laid out the timeline:
- On August 19, 2016, Manafort left the Trump campaign, after being pushed out.
- That same day, Manafort filed papers to create a new shell company: Summerbreeze LLC.
- In September 2016, Summerbreeze got a $3.5 million loan from Spruce Capital, a New York investment firm whose co-founder has developed Trump hotel projects and that is financially backed by a Ukrainian billionaire. (Manafort’s home in the Hamptons was the collateral.)
- After Trump won the election, in late 2016, Summerbeeze got another $9.5 million loan from the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago. And in January 2017, that same bank loaned Manafort $6.5 million more. (All these were, again, collateralized by Manafort’s properties.)
Those last loans seemed particularly odd because, per the Times, the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago “focuses on affordable mortgages for military veterans,” and the loan to Manafort amounted to more than 5 percent of its total assets. Furthermore, the bank’s head, Stephen Calk, was part of Trump’s economic advisory council during the campaign — raising questions of impropriety.
Now, NBC’s Winter and Jackson add the news that Mueller’s team is examining whether Manafort had promised Calk a Trump administration job in return for those loans. He didn’t end up getting any job. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Calk hoped to become Secretary of the Army.
The NBC reporters also write that “the three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, and one source said that at least one of the bank employees who felt pressured into approving the deals is cooperating with investigators.” (A spokesperson for Manafort has said that the loans had above-market-rate interest and were overcollateralized.)
There’s been a lot of news in the Manafort/Gates case lately
If there is a new bank fraud charge against Manafort, it would turn up the heat on him even further.
There have been several recent reports suggesting that Manafort’s longtime business partner Rick Gates, who was indicted alongside him last October, is on the verge of “flipping” and making a plea deal with Mueller’s team. That, however, hasn’t been publicly confirmed yet.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a lawyer who had worked with Manafort and Gates on their Ukraine work — Alex van der Zwaan — pleaded guilty to making false statements. He admitted to lying to Mueller’s team about when his last communications with Gates and another unnamed person took place, and lying about deleting and not providing relevant emails to investigators.
Now there is the new report that new charges have already been filed in the Manafort case. Those could involve Gates flipping, or a new bank fraud charge against Manafort, or something else entirely — we won’t know until the new charging document is unsealed.
All this could be aimed mainly at bolstering Mueller’s case against Manafort. Or it could have the primary goal of pressuring Manafort himself to flip, if he were to have information incriminating President Trump.