By Horus Alas
CNN first reported Oct. 27 that initial charges from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election could be expected as early as Oct. 30.
Three Trump campaign officials: George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates and former chairman Paul Manafort, were in fact, indicted yesterday on federal charges stemming from the Mueller investigation.
Reporters staked out a Washington FBI Field Office yesterday morning as Manafort surrendered himself to federal authorities. He and his protégé, Rick Gates, are charged with a 12-count indictment mostly centered on money laundering and tax evasion using overseas shell companies during Manafort’s decades-long career as an international political consultant.
Initially, reaction in the White House seems to have been one of relief. President Trump tweeted at 7:25 a.m. yesterday, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.” Three minutes later, he tweeted, “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
The dual indictments of Manafort and Gates are ominous for Trump and his cabal, but not quite damning. Other possible suspects for these indictments included Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr. who met with Russian operatives last summer in an attempt to procure damaging information on their opponent in last year’s election, Hillary Clinton.
But ultimately, it’s the indictment of the little-known Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, that proves most crucial in moving this story toward a dramatic crescendo.
Papadopoulos’ indictment was announced later that morning, and the usually-blustering twitter account at President Trump’s fingertips fell silent for the rest of the day. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, along with the president’s team of lawyers, purportedly urged him to limit his public comments on the matter.
Although Papadopoulos was only a low-ranking advisor who seems to have operated outside Trump’s inner circle, he pleaded guilty to issuing false statements to the FBI regarding his contact with Russian agents while working for the Trump campaign.
Among the wealth of information revealed to investigators by Papadopoulos’ testimony, it was discovered he kept in contact with a shadowy figure based in London dubbed “the Professor,” who encouraged contact between the Trump campaign and Russia, and that he sought to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.
Papadopoulos was also informed by the professor that the Russians purportedly had “thousands of emails” of Clinton’s as early as April 26, 2016, well before the Democratic National Committee announced on June 14 they believed themselves to have been hacked.
At the end of this information trail, then-Republican nominee Trump expressed hope that Russia would disclose Clinton’s hacked emails in July 2016: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
The implications of Mueller’s incendiary developments on Monday are far-reaching, and will likely haunt the Trump administration for the next several months.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a senior Republican official with contacts in the White House told “The Washington Post,” “The walls are closing in. Everyone is freaking out.”
Thus far, the Trump administration has been able to weather the storms of the ongoing Russia investigation thanks in part to the President’s incessantly-provocative behavior and ability to command news cycles. “Fake news” has become a powerful refrain among Trump and his coterie.
But in spite of his recent efforts to direct national conversation toward Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta’s recent ouster from his firm in the midst of the Mueller probe, most national outlets remain squarely focused on the intricate plot details of the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russia during last year’s election.
“Papadopoulos’s indictment doesn’t directly prove collusion on its own, but it undermines the Trump White House’s claims of ignorance on behalf of the president and his inner circle,” write Matt Ford and Adam Serwer of “The Atlantic” in response to Mueller’s reveals yesterday.
While the President and conservative outlets focus on red herring stories like the Podesta debacle, or Hillary Clinton’s purported—but patently false—involvement in a sale of American uranium to Russia, the real story here remains that agents working on the Trump campaign knowingly sought out foreign aid to sabotage their opponent’s campaign.
Though it hasn’t been conclusively proven yet, evidence strongly suggests that Trump himself and the higher strata of his campaign operation were aware of these efforts. If so, the White House’s repeated denials and claims of ignorance on the collusion allegations will prove to have been spurious.
In comments to “The Atlantic,” University of Texas law professor John Vladeck observed, “I’ve thought all along that the real question after the Manafort indictment [would be] whether this was the beginning of the story or the end. The Papadopoulos news sure makes it seem like it’s the beginning.”
Special counsel Mueller stands at the helm of this investigation with vast, far-reaching consequences for the integrity of our democracy. The intricately-woven plot lines of this drama are still unfolding, and as spectators, we can only claim one thing with confidence; there will be more to watch.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.