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What is "conspiracy against the United States"?

Mueller's investigation

Among the 12 charges in the federal grand jury's indictment against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, "conspiracy against the United States" certainly sounds the most ominous.

However, this is not a charge that is related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into collusion with the Russians in the 2016 presidential election. Nor do any of the charges listed in the indictment directly relate to his work for the Trump campaign.

So, why is it referred to as a "conspiracy"?

Because the charge involves two or more people -- in this case, the second person is Rick Gates, Manafort's business partner, who was indicted Monday with him. Gates also served as the Trump campaign's liaison to the Republican National Committee. The U.S. code on this calls it conspiracy "[i]f two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States."

According to the Justice Department, defrauding the U.S. would include any of these three activities:

  1. They cheat the government out of money or property;
  2. They interfere or obstruct legitimate Government activity; or
  3. They make wrongful use of a governmental instrumentality.
George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in case related to Russia probe

It's true, as CBSN legal analyst Rikki Kleiman pointed out, that conspiracy against the United States is always going to sound serious to a layperson, but in reality, it's just "the catchall for all of the substantive counts that are written in this indictment."

That is, "conspiracy" here means the money laundering, illegal wire transfers, and the setting up of dummy companies to be able to launder money that Gates and Manafort, Kleiman told CBSN Monday. In other words, the false statements to conceal the millions of dollars that Manafort and Gates are accused of making as unregistered agents of the Ukrainian government.

"All of these counts are serious," Kleiman said. "I daresay that they all carry some substantial prison time, and I do not believe that Mr. Manafort -- either at the conclusion of a trial or if he pleads guilty -- [will] be able to walk away without jail time."

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