Mueller’s Manafort Mania
November 9, 2017 | When news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had obtained indictments, there was speculation as to whether that meant that the investigation would be wrapping up. That speculation evaporated shortly after former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s arrest and the subsequent release of the guilty plea by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Although Manafort is an impressive catch, the charges against him and business partner Richard Gates have nothing to do with the Trump campaign. The real catch is Papadopoulos, and his willingness to sign a plea deal and work with Mueller.
Papadopoulos is a relatively minor figure compared to Manafort or former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, someone seen as one of the next likely targets. However, his plea is the clearest evidence we currently have of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The charge against him—making false statements to federal investigators—is relatively minor as well, but it establishes a well-known strategy of prosecutors aggressively pursuing smaller crimes in order to get a suspect to flip. At least in this case, it worked, and that should worry the Trump administration. This brings us back to Manafort. It is possible that Mueller has no evidence of collusion between Russia and Manafort. It is also possible evidence simply has not been uncovered yet. Regardless, going after Manafort for unrelated crimes shows that Mueller is looking for something to pressure Manafort into cooperating, and in turn hopefully provide evidence to go after bigger catches, like Flynn or Donald Trump, Jr. In any case, the investigation is just beginning. In the words of Reddit: it’s Mueller time.
Furthermore, it is critical we not dismiss Papadopoulos’ significance to the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos on several occasions acted as an official representative of the Trump campaign. He was once present at an event hosted by a prominent interest group during the Republican National Convention attended by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He also spoke to both Russian and Israeli news organizations on behalf of the campaign, promoting better relations with both states respectively. He was also featured in an Instagram post of a national security meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump. This level of presence is not simply that of a “volunteer” that the Trump administration has tried to emphasize.
More concerning than Papadopoulos is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose connections with Russian citizens and more specifically Russian government officials are being questioned yet again. It is now known that Sessions was aware of a meeting that Papadopoulos was trying to set up between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign, a fact Sessions never mentioned in testimony he gave to the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees. Because of Sessions’ past omissions to the same committees regarding his three meetings with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, senators of both parties are now concerned about Sessions’ knowledge of Papadopoulos’ connections to Russia.
Given the past two years of political drama within the U.S., it is so easy and even tempting to overlook these details. While these revelations are not about Trump himself, that does not lessen their gravity, however. A foreign power hostile to the U.S. has tried and is still trying to undermine stability and democratic function, and is in part doing so through actors like Papadopoulos. If events like this were occurring while the Cold War raged—during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, for example—the country would be in an uproar. No resource would be spared to get to the bottom of this and politics would ultimately be set aside. Now one party is unwilling to discuss the matter at all and the other is struggling to balance legitimate concern with the instinct to politicize these scandals, while the Russian government watches on with glee.
Politics aside, Papadopoulous’ plea, Manafort and Gates’ convictions, and constantly evolving news stories—such as the deep ties between Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross Jr., and Vladimir Putin—will do nothing but continue to fuel the fire under the Trump Administration that has been smoldering for months now. Criminal activity and foreign intervention at this level cannot be dismissed, and would be damning to whichever party or administration that was caught in the crosshairs. It was not so long ago that a staunch conservative and Republican, Joseph McCarthy, was concerned that communist spies had infiltrated various U.S. institutions and industries. Infamously dubbed “McCarthyism,” his witch hunt has since been discredited as hysterical and paranoid. It is most ironic that his own party is now an unwitting ally for virtually the same country he so earnestly tried to fight.
Jordan Paul is a law student at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law and holds a Bachelor's in Political Science from the University of Portland. Sophia Freuden is a former Fulbright recipient who was stationed in Russia and has a Bachelor's in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College.
The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror itself.
Photo by The White House from Washington, DC (P072012PS-0298) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons