Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been arrested and indicted on charges that he laundered more than $18 million paid to him by allies of Vladimir Putin in the Ukraine.
Rick Gates, the head of Trump’s inaugural committee and later of a pro-Trump superPAC, has been indicted on related charges. However, as Trump himself helpfully points out this morning, those indictments do not involve allegations of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian leadership.
Again, Trump is correct. The indictments against Manafort and Gates do not directly address allegations of collusion. But still, you have to wonder at the judgment of a campaign and candidate that put persons of that background into such high-profile positions. Manafort’s shady history and business alliance with Putin associates were not exactly secret even at the time of his appointment as campaign manager. That concern only increases when you consider that Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn, also faces legal troubles for not disclosing financial and other ties with top Russian officials.
However, the interesting news break of the day — the one that in time might echo most loudly — was the announcement that a third Trump associate, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulus, had been arrested back in July and has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about secret discussions and negotiations that took place between the Trump campaign and high-ranking Russian officials.
Again, those secret backdoor communications between Russia and the Trump campaign are not merely alleged. As part of his guilty plea, Papadopoulus has confessed to participating in them and later lying about them. He has further told the FBI that he kept his superiors in the Trump campaign well-briefed on those contacts as they took place.¹
According to that guilty plea, Papadopoulus had discussions as far back as March 2016 with an unnamed “overseas professor who defendant Papadopoulus understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials.” The professor in turn introduced Papadopoulus to “a female Russian national,” which is classic Russian espionage. Papadopoulus was even told that the woman was “a relative of Vladimir Putin with connections to senior Russian officials.” (She was supposedly Putin’s niece, which turned out to be untrue.)
In April of 2016, according to the guilty plea, the professor met in Moscow with top Russian officials, and those officials gave the professor an interesting message to be communicated to the Trump campaign.
As the guilty plea states:
“The professor told defendant Papadopoulus that on the trip he (the professor) had learned the Russians had obtained ‘dirt’ on then-candidate Clinton. The professor told defendant Papadopoulus, as defendant Papadopoulus later described to the FBI, that “They (the Russians) ” had ‘dirt’ on her,” “the Russians had emails of Clinton;” “they have thousands of emails.”
That’s pretty important. It is now established fact that as far back as April 2016, the Trump campaign knew, through top Russian sources, that Russia had hacked Clinton; nobody else knew of the hacking until mid-June, two months later, when those emails began to be leaked through Wikileaks.
So when Russians reached out in early June to Donald Trump Jr., offering dirt on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” it wasn’t the first time such information had been communicated, which explains why Trump Jr. and Manafort professed no surprise at the offer being made.
When Trump publicly disputed Russian responsibility for the hacking –“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” — his own campaign had already been told, by the Russians, that it was the Russians.
When Trump later begged Russia to release additional Clinton emails, his campaign knew, from the Russians themselves, that they had been the source of the previous hacked emails. Furthermore, all of those protestations about no contacts with Russia –“It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign,” said spokesperson Hope Hicks — those had been lies.
So how far do those lies reach? What were those lies attempting to hide?
Stay tuned. I know I will.
¹The Papadopolous guilty plea documents that through email, he informed an unnamed “High-Ranking Campaign Official,” a “Senior Policy Adviser” and “Campaign Supervisor” of these contacts. Mike Flynn was Trump’s top foreign policy adviser; Jeff Sessions was chair of Trump’s foreign policy advisory committee.