On October 30, the United States’ Department of Justice, via special counsel Robert Mueller, indicted Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.
Robert Mueller is tasked with investigating Russia’s real or alleged interventions in the U.S. presidential election of 2016. Paul Manafort was the manager of Donald Trump’s campaign from June 20 until August 19 of that year. His effective control of the campaign may have begun somewhat earlier. The man he replaced as manager said that June, “Paul Manafort has been in operational control of the campaign since April 7.”
Gates served as Manafort’s deputy campaign manager at that time, and has served as his right-hand man in various other capacities during their careers.
Paul Manafort has also long prospered as a lobbyist and peddler of influence on a global scale. He earned some notoriety, in the years before that campaign, through a relationship with pro-Russia politicians in the Ukraine. Indeed, when he was relieved of his duties as campaign manager in August 2016, it was in large part because members of the Trump family worried that Manafort had become too close to Russian and pro-Russian contacts.
The counts of the indictment arise in general from the Russia/Ukraine dealings in which Manafort and Gates were engaged before they became involved with the Trump campaign. Indeed, that campaign is never mentioned in the bill of indictment. Manafort and Gates have both pleaded ‘not guilty’ to all the charges.
Left Wing View
Some would like to deem this indictment irrelevant to the central mandate of the special counsel, that is, the issue of which Americans, if any, colluded with the Russians to interference in the 2016 elections to the advantage of said Russians. Nonetheless, there are at least three respects in which it is very pertinent indeed.
First, further proceedings in the Manafort/Gates matter will give the President a lot of opportunities to shoot himself in the foot – or in more vital organs – by anything from ill-advised tweeting to an outright pardon.
As Mark Greenberg and Harry Litman have written in an op-ed for the L.A. Times, “at least the grown-ups on the Trump legal team … understand that at present the move [a pardon of the Mueller indictees] would create outsize political risk.”
Second, it seems a priori likely that if the Trump campaign were involved in collusion with the Russian government, Manafort and/or Gates would be aware of this, and would be able to point to where the bodies are buried in the course of still-hypothetical settlement talks. As Heather Digby Parton writes in Salon, “If one wanted to ‘flip’ a person to gain cooperation in understanding a larger conspiracy, [the sort of crime alleged against Manafort and Gates is] the sort of crime an aggressive prosecutor would use as leverage.”
Thirdly, Donald Trump has defined his chief structural goal as “draining the swamp” which seems to mean, confronting the culture of professional influence peddling. Yet the man who served as his political right hand man during the central portion of his campaign, a patch that included Trump’s nomination by the Republican convention, is shown to be a true-green alligator, a long-time denizen of that very swamp.
Right Wing View
Many conservatives [and Trump supporters, not identical groups although there is a large Venn diagram intersection] point to other crimes that they believe are greater than the crimes alleged here, and from which they believe these allegations are a distraction.
J Burton tweeted, and prominent right-wing pundit Ann Coulter re-tweeted, the following sentiment, “Doesn’t seem to bother #Resistance types that none of their TRUMP/RUSSIA BOMBSHELLS ever have anything to do with Trump/Russia collusion.”
Coulter also re-tweeted a satiric piece from The Onion, which portrays special counsel Mueller whispering into a locket with a photograph of James Comey. Comey of course was the former FBI Director dismissed by President Trump in May. On May 12, three days after that dismissal, the President notoriously tweeted, “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
The connection between Comes and Manafort posited by The Onion is presumably amusing to conservatives such as Coulter because it feeds into the notion that the “deep state” is loyal to the Democrats and thus out to get Trump.