Manafort Indictment Signals Progress In Mueller Investigation

BY MILO KAHNEY

Paul Manafort speaks to reporters. (Associated Press).

The FBI’s recent indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and campaign official Rick Gates, have heated up investigations into possible campaign collusions with the Russian government. Meanwhile, former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos plead guilty to lying about his contact with a professor who had ties to the Russian government. Thus far, the Papadopoulos plea deal has been the investigations most concrete evidence connecting Trump’s campaign to the Kremlin. While there is no hard evidence of Trump’s personal contact with Russian officials, it is clear that these possible collusions are no longer empty conspiracy theories as the Trump administration would like the public to think.  

According to the indictment, Manafort and Gates made tens of millions of dollars for their political consultation services in Ukraine which they then put in foreign companies and bank accounts to evade U.S. taxes. This includes more than $75 million that Manafort passed through foreign bank accounts and another $18 million in real estate and other luxury goods inside the United States. Gates, on the other hand, transferred more than $3 million from foreign accounts. Following the indictment, Manafort plead not guilty to charges of money laundering. Manafort and Gates had provided political consultation and worked with Ukrainian lobbyists and former Ukrainian president and Putin ally Viktor F. Yanukovych, but while the indictment of these two men made no mention of collusion, it shows that Special Counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller is thorough and persistent in his search.

Mueller has put a lot of pressure on Manafort to talk, and his current investigation strategy is similar to those of his organized crime investigations in the past. FBI agents raided Manafort’s home back in July, and the Counsel appears to be working to encourage associated periphery figures to cooperate as they close in on the major suspects. Though Papadopoulos plead guilty on Oct. 5th, facing a maximum of five years in prison, the plea deal may shorten his sentence to a just a few months.

Conspicuously, Republican senators have been quiet about the indictments. Only 15 GOP Senators have commented, showing that a Republican controlled Congress is completely incapable of standing up to Trump. Avid Trump supporter and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, called Mueller an “out-of-control prosecutor,” guilty of grotesque abuse. These claims come just months after Gingrich tweeted, “Robert Mueller is a superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” Three House Republicans introduced a measure demanding Mueller resign because of James Comey, and many adamant Trump supporters are urging that the president fire Mueller. If these demands were to come true, Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, who stepped in to head the Russia investigations after General Jeff Sessions’ recuse, would have to fire Mueller. If Rosenstein refuses, Trump would then have to fire Rosenstein to replace him with someone willing to fire Mueller. Such a scenario would be reminiscent of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox after both the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General resigned. Nixon’s actions caused a massive uproar and became a major reason for his resignation. In Nixon’s case, both the House and the Senate were held by the Democrats. Currently, however ,both chambers of Congress are held by Republicans, where Trump enjoys a 78 percent  Republican approval rating. If Mueller does get fired, there would be little incentive for Republicans in Congress to take action.

Trump’s “America First” foreign policy clearly does not apply to Russia. When the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Convention and released thousands of emails via Wikileaks, Trump repeatedly denied Russian responsibility despite overwhelming evidence. During a presidential debate Trump stated, “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people, It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” Trump even encouraged more Russian hackings during a news conference, saying “Russia if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Trump supporter Roger Stone and CIA director Mike Pompeo, cheered Wikileaks for releasing the emails. Meanwhile, Trump has refused to condemn Putin for the deaths of his political adversaries, and even shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador regarding Israel back in May. This severely undermines the United States’ relationship with Israel and other countries it frequently exchanges information with. In July, Trump was reportedly in talks to give back two Russian compounds that former President Barack Obama ordered vacant in retaliation for the Kremlin’s 2016 election interference. Russia frequently used these compounds to spy on the United States. What’s especially surprising is that it is unclear what the U.S. would get in return. Even if there are no collusion links, Trump actively enabled and encouraged Russian interference with the 2016 election for his own benefit.   

Trump is working hard to distract the public from these investigations. He would like to move the attention away from his investigation and place it on Hillary Clinton. On Oct. 28th Trump tweeted, “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of costly looking, that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!” Trump’s statement is a reference an Obama Administration decision to allow a Russian firm to buy a Canadian company with permits to extract uranium in the U.S. Trump claims that former President Bill Clinton received money from Russian interests in exchange for this uranium deal, though these accusations lack evidence. Trump is also attempting to divert attention to evidence that the Democratic primary favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. These claims are from a newly released excerpt from Interim Democratic National Convention Chairwoman Donna Brazile’s new book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” Trump took to Twitter to say, “The real story on Collusion is in Donna B’s new book. Crooked Hillary bought the DNC & then stole the Democratic Primary from Crazy Bernie!” By diverting attention away from the investigation, Trump has been able to retain the support of his base. According to FiveThirtyEight his approval rating has actually increased by over half a percentage point since the indictments. Although Trump’s tactics are working now, the Mueller investigation has shown no signs of halting. Even with the support of Fox News and the silence of Congressional Republicans, Trump cannot hide the truth forever – whatever it may be.

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