Indictments in an Oklahoma campaign fraud case were handed down this week against a key player of the Donald Trump presidential campaign just days before the election.
Stephanie Milligan, the Battleground State Political Director for the Trump campaign, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit a felony in Oklahoma this past Thursday. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison.
The charges come at the end of an election cycle marred by calls from Donald Trump surrogates and his supporters, as well as occasional insinuations from Trump himself to jail Democratic Nominee, Hilary Clinton. Attempts to confirm Milligan's position with the Trump campaign or comment on the charges were not responded to immediately. Milligan was also unavailable for a comment on the charges.
The counts were part of a two-year investigation into illegal campaign coordination with an outside group in a race for Oklahoma state superintendent. Milligan consulted and was listed as having a bank account for the outside group, documents from the investigation show.
Milligan formerly served as the Oklahoma and Arkansas State Director for the Trump campaign and was promoted to Midwest Regional Political Organizer in March. According to her LinkedIn profile, she was promoted to her current position this past June.
Milligan's place in the campaign makes her the second highest-ranking woman at this stage in the race behind campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. The indictments, and following arrest warrant, came less than a week before the election in which battleground states like Ohio, North Carolina and Florida may be make or break Trump's chances of being president.
This is not the first brush with the criminal justice system for high-level Trump staffers. Former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with battery in Florida after allegedly grabbing a reporter during a rally. He was not prosecuted. Lewandowski was abruptly released from the campaign after the incident, although reports allege he had a strenuous relationship with Trump’s children.
Paul Manafort, who replaced Lewandowski, resigned from managing the campaign after Ukrainian investigators raised concerns he may be guilty of money laundering, tax evasion and providing illegal funds to sway Washington lobbyists in favor of a pro-Russian candidate.
News of Milligan’s indictment followed calls by GOP voters and several elected officials to impeach or jail Clinton in the wake of newly discovered emails. The FBI discovered the email exchanges on a laptop shared by Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, and her separated husband, former New York Congressman, Anthony Weiner.
The bureau was investigating recent claims that Weiner had allegedly sent lewd texts and messages to a 15-year-old girl when the emails were discovered. As a result, reports broke that the FBI was re-opening the closed investigation into Clinton's use of a private server. The decision to review the emails elicited praise from Trump supporters, ire from Democrats and confusion from reporters about the release of inflammatory information so close to the election.
Those reactions were followed by a story from Fox News host, Bret Bair, that an FBI source told him an indictment of Clinton was "likely." The claim however was called false by several major news organizations and Bair later apologized for his statement saying, “it was just inartful.”
The actual indictments of Milligan were also released during a lull in news coverage of the Trump campaign. The race has tightened in recent days with Clinton showing only a 4-point lead in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll numbers.
At recent rallies, Trump has seemed to actively subdue his normally outspoken rhetorical style, seemingly to avoid making headlines.
"We've gotta be nice and cool," Trump said at a rally in Pensacola, Fla. last week. "Nice and cool. All right? Stay on point Donald. Stay on point."
It's unclear whether the indictments will affect the election in the final days of the campaign, with early voting already begun in many states across the country. It also raises questions about whether Milligan will stay with the campaign in its final days and if she would be a member of the administration despite the charges. It may also raise concerns about how closely Trump’s people work with his supporting Super PACs.
"It could come as a pile-on," one former political consultant who agreed to speak on background said. They added it could lend to an image that Trump is "not clean." They also noted the indictment is probably "not sufficiently big enough" to sway voters or opinion before the polls open.
"If it were seven or eight weeks ago it might have mattered...but it certainly flummoxes the leadership inside the [Trump] campaign," the consultant said.