President Trump tweeted yesterday morning in response to special counsel Mueller’s indictment of three Trump campaign members:
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????? ….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
The President seemed remarkably pleased to learn that his former campaign manager is a multi-million-dollar money launderer and foreign agent who repeatedly lied to the Justice Department. After joining the President’s campaign in March 2016, Manafort managed it from May until August when he stepped down after his involvement with pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians became public. Manafort also attended the June meeting with the Russian lawyer who offered Donald Trump, Jr. damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Rick Gates, Manafort’s junior party who is facing the same criminal charges, remained with the campaign and later helped to direct the inauguration.
Although Manafort and Gates’ money laundering and tax fraud pre-dates their involvement in the Trump campaign, the special counsel also indicted the President’s former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about meeting with Russian contacts. A London professor connected to the Kremlin told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russian government wished to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton with the Trump campaign:
“During this meeting, the Professor told defendant that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials. The professor told defendant that on that trip he (the professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The professor told defendant Papadopoulos, as Papadopoulos later described to the FBI, that ‘they have dirt on her’; ‘the Russians had emails on Clinton’; ‘they have thousands of emails.'”
The meeting, which also included a Russian ambassador and Putin’s niece, occurred after Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign and two months before it was known that Russia had hacked DNC emails. Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying about the meeting, establishing the first official verification that a member of the Trump campaign was involved in Russia’s interference in the election. Moreover, Papadopoulos made his Russian connections known to “high-ranking campaign officials,” a “campaign supervisor,” and even to Donald Trump himself. Papadopoulos attended a national security meeting with Donald Trump on March 31, 2016, offering to “help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”
Press Secretary Sanders said yesterday afternoon: “I’m not sure that the president recalls specific details of the meeting.” She also acknowledged that Gates and President Trump had “some initial contact after the president was sworn in.” But, like the President, she insisted the indictments were insignificant: “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity. We’ve been saying from Day 1 there’s been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all.”
While the Papadopoulos indictment is not itself evidence of collusion, it significantly widens the possibility and justifies the continuation of the special counsel investigation. Because of prior concerns that President Trump could fire the special counsel as he fired FBI Director Comey last spring, Republican Senator Graham is co-sponsoring a bill that would require any President to obtain a judge’s approval first. Republican Senator Tillis is also co-sponsoring another bipartisan bill that would provide special counsels a means to challenge a dismissal in court. Graham said yesterday afternoon: “We’re talking with the other sponsors and seeing if it’s the sort of thing that can get support.”
Will you support either of these bills or do you think President Trump should be free to fire special counsels?