Republican supporters of the president had better understand how much trouble Donald Trump might be in — this, because of the news from Robert Mueller’s office today. First, there is the Paul Manafort indictment, as reported by the NYT:
Paul Manafort and his former business associate were indicted on Monday on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges, a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over President Trump’s first year in office.
Mr. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services.
“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment reads.
Mr. Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements.
In fact, prosecutors allege, Manafort was communicating directly with then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych about the effort, promising in 2012 to provide him weekly updates about the effort.
To further obscure Ukrainian involvement in the lobbying effort, prosecutors say payments to the Washington firms were routed through obscure offshore companies. Prosecutors say that when the Department of Justice approached Manafort and Gates in 2016 and 2017 about whether they should have registered as foreign agents for the work, they responded with false and misleading letters, indicating they had not directed the lobbying effort and asserting they did not hold records reflecting their work, even though later searches showed they did, according to the indictment.
Note well that the indictment does not touch Donald Trump. But charges alleging that Trump’s former campaign manager is a money launderer who got very rich from work done for a Russian stooge — work that he knew was illegal, and tried to conceal — well, that’s very serious stuff. It is entirely possible that the President knew none of this when he hired Manafort, and we shouldn’t assume that he did. However, Mueller now has Manafort in a position to deal. If a court finds him guilty, Manafort, 68, may well spend the rest of his life in federal prison. If — if — Manafort has anything compromising on Trump regarding his relationship to the Russians, Mueller’s going to try to squeeze it out of him.
And then there’s the George Papadopolous guilty plea, in which the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser admitted lying to the FBI about the timing and nature of his Russian contacts. Here is the official text of what Papadopolous admitted he did.
Read the document. Papadopolous admits that he met with an unofficial representative of the Russian government as a Trump adviser, and that he repeatedly tried to arrange meetings with Putin’s office and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He told an unnamed high Trump campaign official that the Russians said they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The meetings he tried to arrange never took place, according to the document, but what this guilty plea establishes is attempts from within the Trump campaign to meet with the Russians to gain compromising material on Hillary Clinton.
Note well that Papadopolous did not plead guilty to wrongdoing by pursuing those contacts. He pled guilty to lying about them to the FBI. It is interesting to note that this guilty plea was entered on October 5 — and it did not leak. What else does Mueller know that has not leaked? Do any Congressional Republicans really want to go out on a limb to defend a president whose campaign adviser met repeatedly with Russians for the sake of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, then lying to the FBI about it? Do they really want to go out on a limb for a president whose former campaign chief was charged today with money laundering in connection with services rendered to a Ukrainian politician in Putin’s pocket?
None of what we know so far touches Trump directly. But the circling sharks tightened the perimeter today.
UPDATE: Holy cow! Allahpundit makes a case that Papadopolous might have been wearing an FBI wire. The FBI document identifies Papadopolous as a “proactive cooperator” with the investigation. That has in the past meant “one who agrees to wear a wire.” Excerpt:
Imagine Papadopoulos phoning a former top Team Trump official in early August to say, “They’ve arrested me! I don’t know what to do! I think I should tell them everything and make a deal!” He might have been told no, no, no, stay calm, deny X, Y, and Z, we’ll make sure Mueller never finds our emails from the campaign. And meanwhile, unbeknownst to the target, Mueller’s recording the entire conversation on Papadopoulos’s end.
That would also explain that curious WaPo story on August 14 citing various messages sent between Papadopoulos and campaign officials about Russia, all of which seemed to exculpate Team Trump and make it look like Papadopoulos himself was the only one eager to get Trump together with the Kremlin. In hindsight it sure looks like word of Papadopoulos’s arrest in late July had gotten out somehow and someone from the campaign was doing preemptive damage control by leaking to WaPo. But how did campaign staff find out that Papadopoulos had been arrested? One logical possibility: He told them himself in the course of asking for “advice” from them on how to obstruct the investigation, which some of them may have provided. Suddenly those people woke up this morning and realized they’d had conversations with Papadopoulos recently about how to throw Mueller off the trail and only now do they realize he’s been in cahoots with Mueller for three months. Hoo boy.