For over a year, the specter of Russian interference into the 2016 election has cast a distressing shadow over our democracy. Well, today is an historic day: Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the man leading the investigation into the election meddling, has announced the first indictments as a result of his investigation, and none of it is good news for Trump. Mueller has indicted former Trump campaign Chief Of Staff Paul Manafort, and his close associate Robert Gates, on charges of tax fraud and money laundering in connection with Russia lobbying and activities before the election. Both Mueller and Gates surrendered to the F.B.I., and today entered not guilty pleas to all charges.
Obviously not a good look. But wait, there’s more.
While these indictments don’t contain any “smoking gun” directly incriminating the President or his campaign in and of itself, today we learned something else which, when combined with the Manafort news, suggests serious smoke on the horizon for Trump and Russia: Special Counsel Mueller revealed former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying under oath to the F.B.I. about his communications with Russia on behalf of Trump’s campaign for President.
According to the F.B.I.’s investigation, Papadopoulos lied about trying to set up a meeting between Trump officials and the Russian government, and also about his knowledge of all those infamous Hillary emails the Russian government hacked and later leaked to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
In fact, Papadoupolis learned about Russia having the emails months before the public did, and while he was working on the Trump campaign, meaning Trump may well have been running his campaign with the knowledge that Russia would be interfering on his behalf before election day; as we know, Russia in fact, did leak those emails to swing the election. The question is only whether Trump knew they would or not. This Papaodoupolis intel suggests that he may well have.
Papadopoulos has been cooperating with the F.B.I. for months now. In a nutshell, this means Trump will not sleep well tonight.
The White House is denying everything, naturally. In a briefing this morning, Communications Chief Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Papadopoulos was a “volunteer” who did not act in any “official capacity” on behalf of Trump or his campaign. But the F.B.I. has emails to the contrary. As does this photo Trump posted in March of 2016, captioned “my national security team.” (Popadoupooulis is the young guy on the left.)
Sanders also said Manafort’s indictment has to do with activities “years before” he was involved with Trump. Maybe so. But while the charges against Manafort don’t implicate Trump directly, they do offer Mueller’s investigation a Trump card in the form of leverage: Since Manafort faces lots of jail time if convicted, Mueller could get the former Trump Chief to cooperate and give information incriminating Trump by offering him a deal.
Meanwhile Trump, in his Twitter defense, is singing a familiar song: pointing to Hillary Clinton for some reason.
Things are getting really real. Stay tuned for more.