By Veronica Mackey
As Republicans in D.C. hammer it out to try and get a tax bill passed by Christmas, the Russian collusion case involving former Trump advisors has gained new momentum.
On Monday, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury. Manafort was charged with 12 counts, including money laundering and conspiracy. FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections.
Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions, a Ukrainian political party whose leader Victor Yanukovych was president from 2010 to 2014, and the Opposition Bloc, according to Fox News. Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their work in Ukraine.
Of key interest is the charge that Russian officials hacked into then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails to help Trump win. The FBI found, among other evidence, that Manafort has 3 passports with 3 different ID numbers. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty, and are under house arrest. They are considered high flight risks due to their wealth and foreign connections.
News was also revealed that George Papadopoulos, former Trump foreign policy advisor, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI when probed about his ties to Russian officials. He was arrested in July. Papadoupoulos lied about the timing of his contact with the Russians, saying it happened earlier than it did. According to an FBI statement, a Russian official only became interested in Papadopoulos when he learned of his ties to Trump.
There is evidence that Papadopoulos exchanged emails with high ranking Trump officials during his involvement with the campaign, including Manafort and former campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders distanced Trump from his associates, saying “Papadopoulos is someone doing the wrong thing when the campaign was doing the right thing.”
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Clovis, a controversial nominee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Trump, encouraged Papadopoulos to set up a meeting with Russian officials during the campaign. Clovis asked Papadopoulos to take an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials.
Clovis was summoned by Mueller’s office last week. According to a statement by Clovis’ lawyer, Clovis did not encourage Popadopolis to make the trip to Russia. However other evidence confirmed Clovis told him to “make the trip as usual.”
Investigators have found key evidence to suggest that Russians offered the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton along with thousands of her emails. Discussions began between campaign officials and Russia as early as April 2016, according to officials. Mueller is pursuing the trail to see who else in the campaign might be involved.
Though Trump has repeatedly denied having any contact with the Russians, as a candidate, he publicly encouraged Russians to hack into Clinton’s emails after it was revealed that Wikileaks would be releasing her messages.
“This is a growing disaster,” said Ezra Klein, Editor-at-large at VOX. “The Trump Administration had a very serious problem with leaks and infighting. Now, people are turning on the people they worked with or talked to.”
It’s not looking good for the president, as evidence begins to mount that there is no way he could not have known about Russia interfering with the election. One news commentator said as early as April of 2016, there appeared to be an offer of help by the Russians, and an acceptance of help by the Trump campaign.
Everyone from the president to former campaign staff and current employees are on edge, not knowing where the investigation will lead, and who will be in the hot seat next.
Jonathan Capehart, a reporter for the Washington Post, said:
“We are now 48 hours into ‘Mueller’s America.’ What no one knew about was the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, and now we find out that Sam Clovis has already spoken to the grand jury in the Mueller investigation. If you’re in the White House now, this adds ‘freak out’ in the West Wing about who’s next and what’s going to happen next. And Mueller, from what I understand, is not someone to be trifled with.”