The investigation into the highly controversial campaign that turned a reality television host into President of the United States has yielded its first set of indictments. Paul Manafort, a political operative who was once in charge of the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign, surrendered himself to federal agents as directed by a court order arising from the investigation managed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been looking into allegations of campaign fraud, collusion, conspiracy to take public office, and even money laundering. At the heart of the investigation is the alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections by Russian operatives acting on behalf of the Kremlin for the benefit of Donald Trump and his associates.
Also ordered to surrender was Rick Gates, a Manafort business associate who is expected to face a 12-count indictment on charges ranging from money laundering to fraud and from conspiracy to assisting Kremlin operatives meddle in US affairs. The two men were likely pointed out by George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy analyst who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his connections to Russian political operatives.
The Trump Reaction
During the weekend preceding the indictments, President Donald Trump took to Twitter as usual; this time he denounced the investigation by Mueller as a witch hunt, and he even tried to refocus the efforts on alleged wrongdoings by his former election opponent Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Trump’s defense on Twitter points out that the October 30 indictments and the guilty plea by Papadopoulos do not reference him directly, and that the allegations date back years before the controversial election. Trump is correct in this regard; however, law enforcement analysts have commented that Mueller is handling the case as a classic American crime affair, which means that Papadopoulos likely gave up Manafort and Gates, and these two men may give up others that will ultimately point the finger at Trump in exchange for getting a break in terms of sentencing.
The Future of the Investigation
If various investigative news reports published in recent months are correct, the Mueller criminal probe may reveal that greed and money laundering have been central in the relationship between Trump and Russian oligarchs connected to President Vladimir Putin. Should Manafort cooperate with the Special Counsel’s office, the idea of Trump being part of the conspiracy could come into greater focus. Manafort has been under investigation ever since he conducted lobbying in support of Viktor Yanukovyc, the former President of Ukraine, who likely helped Russia during the annexation of Crimea. There is a series of highly suspicious wire transfers that Manafort will have to explain in court, and investigators are trying to connect the dots to see if these wires reached the Trump administration.
If Trump himself is unconcerned about the Mueller investigation, some of those who are close to him could be feeling the heat now that Manafort and Gates are under indictment, namely his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., his own son.