By: Nate Sikora – Staff Writer
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian election interference escalated Monday morning as federal authorities indicted two former Trump campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, on charges of conspiracy. In all, Manafort and Gates were indicted on 12 separate counts, which included money laundering, operating as unregistered foreign agents for Ukraine, failing to disclose overseas bank accounts, and lying to federal authorities.
Paul Manafort was the former Trump campaign chairman from March to August in 2016, steering the campaign while then-candidate Trump secured the Republican nomination and transitioned toward the general election. Manafort’s time as chairman put a spotlight on his past lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government. This exposé sparked a controversy over a possible foreign conflict of interest, which later led to his resignation. Specifically, Manafort was accused of receiving millions of dollars from Ukraine’s Party of Regions, a pro-Russia political party who he supposedly helped elect to power in 2010.
Rick Gates is connected to Manafort through Manafort’s D.C. political consulting firm, Davis Manafort Partners, Inc., that formed in 2005. Gates followed Manafort in 2016 to the Trump campaign and was elevated to the level of deputy campaign manager. Flying lower on the radar, Gates happened to outlive Manafort’s time on the campaign team, leaving to join the nonprofit group America First Policies after working on Trump’s inauguration committee in January.
It is important to note that the indictments stem from actions irrespective of the Trump campaign. Firstly, prosecutors contend that the two men violated the law by failing to register as foreign agents when they lobbied for the Party of Regions in Ukraine. Manafort and Gates subsequently violated the law again when they attempted to launder the tens of millions of dollars earned from that lobbying in order to evade paying taxes on the income. Thirdly, it is U.S. law that Americans who hold financial assets in offshore accounts must disclose such information with the federal government.
The indictment alleges that both men falsely reported the existence of offshore bank accounts to federal authorities. The charges facing Manafort and Gates, mainly conspiracy against the United States, provides prosecutors with immense power and leeway once this is brought to court.
Additionally, it was simultaneously announced that another former Trump campaign official, George Papadopoulos, secretly agreed to a plea deal after lying to FBI agents about the Trump campaign’s outreach and contact with Russian officials. During the campaign, Papadopoulos was a foreign policy advisor with strong relationships with political operatives connected to the Russian government. It has been reported that the former Trump advisor organized a meeting with a Russian-linked contact during the campaign to discuss possible “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, which is the specific meeting Papadopoulos falsified to authorities.
Although the indictments and plea deal do not directly involve Trump, it does provide a sample of the type of people the president surrounds himself with. The Machiavellian-style plot coming to light by the Mueller investigation reflects a level of conspiracy to that of House of Cards. Colluding with Russian-connected operatives in order to gain negative information regarding your political opponent – it seems like something only Francis Underwood would do (also another story).
The issue going forward is whether Trump or any other officials involved themselves in likewise misconduct because the men charged with conspiracy against the U.S. played integral roles in Trump’s campaign. With that being the case, it seems only rational to question whether Trump included himself on any other conspiracies of his closest advisors. Regardless of whether Trump is involved in this certain situation, the fact that two of the president’s former top aides will likely face time in prison shortly after leaving his campaign only raises red flags at to what will be uncovered next.
It is expected that Democrats in Congress will use the recent indictments as evidence to support expanding the investigations into potential ties between Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government. At this juncture, it should not be partisan as to whether to investigate further. Dissent or denial of further inquiry represents political chicanery, which the president happily provided when he tweeted Monday morning when the news broke: “there is NO COLLUSION!”
The president tweeted once again on Monday morning in an attempt to absolve himself of any connection to Manfort’s actions that warranted the indictments. He claimed that “this was years ago, before Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus?”
The spotlight will not be going from this ongoing investigation any time soon. The first domino of the Muller investigation exposes immense misconduct high in the ranks of Trump’s inner circle.
Photo Taken from thenation.com, krmg.com and businessinsider.com