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Opinion Indictments signal the beginning of Mueller’s work, not the end

Trump's former campaign head Paul Manafort, Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates and Trump's campaign adviser George Papadopoulos have been charged. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The Post reports:

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates have been charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money and making false statements.
It marked the first criminal allegations to come from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Gates did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort. Manafort was spotted walking into the FBI’s Washington Field Office Monday morning.

The indictments against Manafort and Gates are detailed here.  They include tax charges as well as charges of conspiracy, making false statements and failure to register as foreign agents. The indictment lays out a web of shell companies that allegedly allowed them to conceal income. No mention is made of President Trump or the campaign, but some of the alleged wrongdoing continued “between in and around 2008 and 2017” (paragraph 14 of the indictment).

What we do not know at this stage vastly outstrips what we do know. We know that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has moved swiftly and that his investigation is not restricted to alleged collusion. We can logically infer that the investigation is not ending, but beginning. Here is what we do not know:

  • If there are no additional charges and those listed in the indictment are not related to the campaign, does Manafort have information about Trump that could be obtained from Mueller through a plea bargain?
  • Did Trump or anyone in his inner circle know about Manafort’s dealings with Russian ally Yanukovych? (By the way, Jared Kushner and others who pushed for Manafort’s hiring once again turn out to be supporters of rotten decision-making that has embroiled the administration in controversy. “Ivanka [Trump] and Jared pushed for then-candidate Trump to hire Trump Tower neighbor Paul Manafort as campaign manager in the spring 2016, replacing the scatter-shot Corey Lewandowski. . . . Manafort’s past clients also included notorious strongmen — Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and Angolan military leader Jonas Savimbi — a fact that Jared and Ivanka either ignored or somehow found useful.”)
  • Did anyone vet Manafort or question him about his foreign dealings? If so, what did they find out?
  • Did Manafort, as some have alleged, or Gates push to change the RNC platform at the convention in Cleveland so as to water down language committing the party to arm Ukraine against Russian and pro-Russian forces? If so, did Trump know about this?
  • How will Trump react? This morning he was still merrily tweeting about Fox’s ongoing coverage of the non-scandal involving Hillary Clinton and Fusion GPS, a topic that in no way will distract Mueller nor lessen the possibility that Trump may be tied to alleged Russian collusion or be found to have obstructed justice.
  • Will Trump in any way suggest a pardon is in the offing for Manafort, an action that will trigger an outcry among Democrats and even some Republicans and will heighten Trump’s vulnerability to charges of obstruction of justice

For now, cries that the investigation is a “hoax” or witch hunt ring hollow when those in the top echelon of the Trump campaign face federal criminal charges. As a political matter, Trump and his family will need to explain why they hired someone whose reputation as a representative of dubious foreign regimes was already known. The utter recklessness in hiring someone with overseas clients, while perhaps not criminal, speaks to Trump and his inner circle’s utter recklessness. It was a pattern seen again in hiring Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser. By the way, it’s odd that we have not heard publicly from him in quite a while.

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