If you were thinking that someday the chickens of justice would come home to roust, probably in that thing on the top of Donald Trump’s head, then today could be the day they start. Very excited at the news of the first indictments in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation and of charges against three people, including a guilty plea that ties the Trump presidential campaign to Russian attempts to influence the election. En garde!
One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates are named in indictments alleging felony conspiracy, but the indictments make no reference to the presidential campaign nor any reference to coordination between the campaign and Russia. Up front, let’s remember that an indictment is not proof of a crime, and that Manafort and Gates both pleaded not guilty to the charges today. But let’s remember as well that an experienced and skilled investigator and prosecutor like Mueller doesn’t go the grand jury with charges without having a strong case. (Yes, yes, I know about grand juries and ham sandwiches, but still.) Also, we should have faith that this is just the first public step in a well-developed-and-researched case(s), not the last.
Why was it again that Manafort was the former campaign chairman? Oh yeah, because he was fired from the campaign after it was learned he’d received more than $12 million in payments from a former president of Ukraine, a pro-Russia politician whom he had worked with for years, that he had failed to disclose. And for what has he been indicted? Conspiracy against the United States of America, conspiracy to launder money, and more.
I believe in giving credit where it’s due, especially in areas where it rarely ever is: the president was accurate when he tweeted this morning that the indictments of Manafort and Gates make no reference to the Trump campaign, nor do they allege wrongdoing in relation to the campaign. Now, on the other hand (you saw this coming), he tweets that as if it’s all that needs to be said ever again on the topic, as if that proves the ultimate innocence of Trump, and all the Trumpets, and the campaign, of all the Russia allegations, and then (of course) uses it as a springboard (again) to suggest the real investigation should be aimed at Hillary Clinton. (Heavy sigh.)
But he offers no comment at all on the rest of the indictment news, which I think is far more important on its face: the fact that former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI in the Mueller probe, which is the “most explicit evidence [so far] connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian government’s meddling in last year’s election.”
Short version: Papadopoulos tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting between a London-based professor and Trump campaign officials…because he was told by the professor in April of 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, at a time long before the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign were public knowledge…and then he lied to the FBI about how valuable he considered the professor but now acknowledges he knew then that the professor had “substantial connections” to Vladimir Putin’s government.
It’s unbecoming for a graying, overweight man in his 60s who is not Santa Claus to be giddy, but I’m right on the edge of that with today’s news. Mueller is ready to start showing his cards, and I trust that he (a) is smart enough to believe he has the goods, and (b) has all the ducks properly aligned, before he starts to deal the cards. Charles Pierce has the same feeling: this is just the beginning, or as he puts it, the snowball has started to roll downhill:
For a while on Monday, whomever in the White House is charged with the task of hiding the presidential* telephone had done a fairly good job. The president*’s Twitter account was rigged for silent running. Republican congresscritters also were maintaining a discreet distance in the immediate aftermath of the news. (Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin popped up on Three Dolts On A Divan to say “dossier,” “Hillary,” and “uranium” a few times, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it.)
At the very least, it would seem to me, Republican congressional leaders ought to be forced to take a position as to what they would do if the president* fired Robert Mueller now that the first shoe has dropped. This should be an easy one, of course, but there is that tax bill to pass, and all that money to shove upwards to the donors, so obligations to the Constitution can wait.
This isn’t going to go like a Perry Mason murder trial, where the real killer suddenly feels remorse and rises to confess the whole thing. Trump won’t go away easy; we can expect he’ll resist every step of the way because he still believes he’s smarter and luckier (and richer, and better looking) than everyone else. And of course, there’s the general understanding that he will lie…about everything, as he has done, even when lying doesn’t help his cause. He operates as if he firmly believes that everyone accepts everything he says as gospel because, well, because it’s him saying it; the fact that he is often wrong and contradicts himself is apparently irrelevant to the true believers. Now, that was probably a good bet to be true when he lived in a universe wholly populated by people dependent on him for their financial well being. For the rest of us, the vast majority of the world’s people who don’t have a financial relationship with Trump, it’s annoying and pathetic. But we know it’s coming, so we’ll deal with it.
Despite the agony I imagine the president will put the country through, I admit I relish the thought of that day when we’ll get to see this guy go up in flames. But it won’t be tomorrow…author Kevin Kruse (@KevinMKruse) tweeted a reminder earlier today that it was almost two years between the first Watergate-related indictments (of the Watergate burglars) and Richard Nixon’s resignation. And it was close to the end of that period before the Republican Congressional leadership moved past their private disgust and went public with their opposition to the president of their own party.
There’s no encouraging reading yet on how far the Republicans who control Congress today will let this go before publicly standing up to the White House. You’d like to think they’d already be taking a stand against a good bit of what Trump has been doing, but as Pierce noted, there are still rich Americans in desperate need of tax cuts, which means Republicans have some pipers to pay before they can stand up for America.