For those of you not constantly plugged in to the news cycle like us junkies, you may have felt a ripple through spacetime while you were enjoying your Friday night. That was the internet’s collective freak out over this tremendously consequential CNN report:
A federal grand jury in Washington, DC, on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.
The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.
That’s pretty much the entire report. CNN doesn’t really give us more than that, so here are five things to help understand what this massive story means.
1. It’s Not Fake News
What we know from the above isn’t much, so we have to trust that CNN knows more than we do—and enough to justify publishing a bombshell like this. And folks—especially the fake news folks—there’s no turning back from publishing something like this. If CNN is wrong, this is it. This is their reputation. We don’t know who is getting charged, when or why. This has the looks of the kind of story that can fall apart quickly, so if they’re publishing just this, their sourcing better be really solid—and there’s no real reason to believe they would publish something like this if they didn’t have it. One reason to believe they do have it?
The Wall Street Journal—owned by the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News—confirmed CNN’s reporting, writing that “at least one defendant may be detained as early as Monday.” Adding insult to MAGA injury, Reuters confirmed it too.
2. Sourcing Determines the Credibility and Legality of the Leak
Don’t take it from me, take it from James Comey’s friend.
I can’t think of very many classes of people that would be briefed on this matter.— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) October 28, 2017
I can't imagine Congress would be briefed at this stage either.— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) October 28, 2017
So if this is for real, it appears to be an egregious leak and may actually be law enforcement leak.— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) October 28, 2017
I am not saying the story is wrong. I am saying let's all hold our horses and respect the process.— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) October 28, 2017
3. This Could Be An Attempt to Flip Someone
Former federal prosecutor, and Democratic candidate for Illinois Attorney General, Renato Mariotti, has been helpful walking people through the legalese in this investigation.
3/ An indictment is a document that sets forth criminal charges. Only a grand jury can vote to issue an indictment.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
5/ To approve an indictment, grand jurors must find there is enough evidence to show there's good reason to believe the crime was committed.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
7/ Generally prosecutors wait until the end of the investigation to present indictments, so they have all of the evidence beforehand.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
9/ Given Mueller's ongoing interviews of White House staff, it doesn't appear that his investigation is wrapping up soon.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
11/ It's also possible, I suppose, that Mueller is responding to pressure to show that his investigation is bearing fruit.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
13/ A more remote possibility is that Mueller is wrapping up his investigation. I just don't see that as realistic based on what we know.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
15/ A bigger mystery is how @CNN got this scoop. They may have told the defense already but unsure what the gain would be from leaking it.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
17/ For now, the @CNN report is too vague to be able to say more than I indicated above. We need to wait for more info. /end— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) October 28, 2017
4. Speculation is Unprofessional…Buuuut Who Do You Think It Is???
Like Mariotti said, the obvious candidate is Paul Manafort. If I were a betting man—and I am—I would bet that any initial indictment is reserved for one of Manafort's lackeys. There have been an avalanche of reports indicating that Robert Mueller's criminal probe has Manafort trapped in a cocoon of alleged money laundering receipts. If this is a leak from Mueller's team, it could be a way for them to create leverage above the person(s) they're trying to flip. Or as former war correspondent Dan Murphy puts it:
What us the reason for two day delay? Real Q— NancyWilliamsPainter (@painter_nancy) October 28, 2017
Sorry I don't understand.— NancyWilliamsPainter (@painter_nancy) October 28, 2017
I'm saying Mueller's giving these small fry (whichever they are) to have a come to Jesus moment and get a little something for themselves.— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) October 28, 2017
5. All Those Hillary Clinton Stories This Week Sure Look Convenient
Trump and his cronies didn't drudge up a thoroughly debunked Steve Bannon special just for kicks. Fox News wasn't attacking the special counsel for no reason.
Look at them dance! pic.twitter.com/MS8uRtw5rQ— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) October 28, 2017
The craziness of this entire week makes so much more sense with this news. It was all a distraction because they knew what was coming down the pike.
Boy it's almost as if some people knew this was coming so they tried to pour chum in the water to make it dank and murky https://t.co/kWRR8a9Mpc— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 28, 2017
Defying the Tappers of the world calling him out, President No Puppet You're The Puppet bravely charged through the Twitter malestrom in his quest to take down Fox News' Eternal President of the United States: Hillary Clinton.
“How Team Hillary played the press for fools on Russia”
NOW WE KNOW! pic.twitter.com/SgWL1HZmkI— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 28, 2017
Folks, get some rest this weekend. We’re waking up in a whole new world on Monday.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.