Following the official news that former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Robert Gates have been indicted on 12 different charges including money laundering and conspiracy against the United States, the “president,” his supporters, and most of the conservative media has been in full panic mode. Almost immediately Trump sent out a tweet saying that all of this happened years ago, before Manafort worked for his campaign, and it has nothing to do with last year’s election. As expected, that’s the same talking point Trump’s supporters and most of the conservative media have taken on this scandal, too.
Their defense, at least for now, is that these charges brought against Manafort are about him, not Trump, so they have nothing to do with the election and certainly don’t prove “collusion” that they continue to claim doesn’t exist.
I say that’s their defense for now, because that’s a short-sighted and temporary defense. It’s an incredibly lazy way to look at what we learned on Monday.
You don’t need to be an expert in law enforcement to understand how investigations involving much more powerful potential targets tend to work. Watch practically any movie centered around the downfall of an organized crime boss and you’ll learn that the best, and most efficient, way for law enforcement officials to bring down that particular individual isn’t by going after them directly — but by initially focusing their attention on less powerful subordinates who can be “flipped” into witnesses in exchange for leniency.
It’s much easier for Mueller and the FBI to expand their case into whether or not Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia now that they have the “president’s” second campaign manager possibly facing decades in prison on charges that, at least for now, are completely unrelated to the 2016 election. They can use leverage they have on Manafort and Gates to hopefully pressure them into pointing them in the right direction, if not outright giving them, any evidence or information that may be related to potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Let’s not forget, Manafort was at the infamous June 9th meeting Donald Trump Jr. setup with Russian officials who had promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton. Whatever truly went on there could be extremely damaging for Trump.
What if Manafort tells the FBI that:
- The “president” knew about the meeting, despite Trump’s insistence that he didn’t hear about it until the news of it broke just a few weeks ago?
- Not only did Trump know about the meeting, but he also knew it involved officials representing Russia’s government offering him dirt on Clinton as part of Putin’s effort to help his chances of winning?
- At the meeting the emails hacked from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign manager were discussed and that information was then taken to Trump immediately after the meeting concluded?
- Upon learning that the Russian government was planning to release Clinton’s emails, Trump then agreed to take a softer stance on Russia in exchange for their help defeating Clinton?
- Part of the reason Michael Flynn contacted Russia right after Barack Obama announced new sanctions on Russia was all part of Trump’s agreement with Russia related to the cyber attack that helped defeat his opponent?
Again, that’s all speculation on my part, but I wanted to bring it up to point out how investigations like this tend to work and some of the potential information Manafort could know based on just one meeting.
Robert Mueller and the FBI are professionals at this. They’re well aware that powerful figures such as Trump often delegate questionable, if not outright criminal, behavior to subordinates as their way to claim “innocence” should anything ever come back to haunt them later. They know trying to directly tie Trump to anything criminal might be impossible because it’s very probable that if collusion did occur, he never personally did any of it.
However, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t aware that it was going on, encouraging it, or even outright endorsing it.
To collude with Russia, Trump wouldn’t have had to personally call Putin and say, “Okay, Vlad, let’s work together to bring down Clinton.” As stupid as I think Trump is, I don’t think he’s that stupid.
That said, if there’s a wall of people between Trump and Putin, for instance campaign managers, random staffers, lawyers, family members, or even friends of a friend, who then serve as “messenger pigeons” between the two men — that’s still collusion.
I think it’s also important to point out what we learned Monday in regards to former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
Aside from the indictments of Manafort and Gates, we also learned that Papadopoulos pled guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI about his contact with — wait for it — Russians during Trump’s campaign.
In his plea deal it was revealed that Papadopoulos aggressively worked to bring the Trump campaign and Russians together, even sending several emails to top campaign staffers encouraging them to try to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.
Clearly that never happened.
While the Trump administration has tried to downplay Papadopoulos’ role with the campaign, official court documents reveal that an unnamed Trump campaign supervisor encouraged him to take a trip to Russia to meet with Russian officials “if it is feasible.”
As reported by NBC News:
During the FBI interview, Papadopoulos downplayed the importance of the communications, saying that a professor living in London was “a nothing,” while a Russian woman had been emailing him just to say, “Hi, how are you?”
In reality, the professor, identified by the Washington Post as Joseph Mifsud of the London Academy of Diplomacy, had told Papadopoulos that Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
“They have thousands of emails,” the professor said, according to the documents — well before it was widely understood that Russia had hacked the Democrats.
Papadopoulos communicated with a “campaign supervisor” about his attempts to broker a meeting with the Russians to discuss U.S.-Russia ties during a Trump presidency, the court papers say.
“Great work,” the supervisor, who was not named in the documents, told him in an email.
Just a few weeks later, Donald Trump Jr. would also meet with Russians promising him “dirt on Clinton” — and almost immediately after that his father would start bringing up Clinton’s emails.
But I’m sure that’s all completely unrelated, right?
Right now I have absolutely no doubt that Donald Trump is in full-on panic mode. While he’s obviously going to try to distance himself from Manafort, while also downplaying the role Papadopoulos had within the campaign, the “president” is almost certainly trying to figure out what they might know and be able to tell the FBI in exchange for leniency.
That’s why these talking points they’re currently using that the charges against Paul Manafort have nothing to do with Trump’s campaign are meaningless. It doesn’t matter if the charges he’s currently facing are directly linked to the 2016 election. The point is that the FBI now has a ton of leverage against someone who could very well prove to be a valuable witness in the much bigger case concerning the 2016 election, the firing of former FBI director James Comey, possible obstruction of justice charges against the “president,” and whether or not Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
Trust me, this is just the beginning.