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Special Counsel Ups the Ante: Indictments and Plea Deals

by Countable | 10.31.17

What’s the story?

On Monday the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia led by Robert Mueller intensified, with indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. A plea deal for former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was also announced.

Why does it matter?

The future of the special counsel investigation and the implications for the Trump administration are unknown, but everyone is speculating about what will come next, including President Trump himself. Here’s a round-up of some of the responses from different perspectives

Writers at the New York Times suggested that the nature of Mueller’s first indictments send a message to the president. The charges refute the president’s consistent assertions that the investigation is all a "witch hunt". They are extensively documented and very serious:

"With the indictments, Mr. Mueller made clear that he was not to be underestimated. In one court document, his team used two words to describe Mr. Papadopoulos that might send a chill down the spines of some in Mr. Trump’s circle: "proactive cooperator.” Mr. Papadopoulos has been cooperating with prosecutors for three months, and his statement refers to several other campaign advisers he consulted as he reached out to Russian officials.

Moreover, former prosecutors said the charges against Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s longtime associate and also a Trump campaign adviser, were so serious that they might be an attempt to scare one or both into cooperating. A White House lawyer said last week that the president has nothing to fear if Mr. Manafort does talk with investigators, but Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors appear intent on finding that out themselves."

Vox offered an exhaustive run through of the actual and circumstantial evidence known by the public at this point, acknowledging that so far there has been no clear evidence of collusion. But there are questions that must be answered, which will determine the scope and severity of the potential damage to the Trump administration:

"First, did any sort of collaborative effort between anyone close to Trump and the Russian government end up materializing?

Second, if there was some sort of collusion, what exactly did it entail? Policy promises, either on Ukraine or sanctions? Consultation on or tip-offs about the Russian hackings? Money? Dirt on Hillary Clinton or other helpful information of some kind? The answer here will be important for just how serious both the political and the criminal aspects of the scandal are.

Third, what evidence exists on all these matters? That is, are there email and phone records or other documents of some kind, did money change hands in any way that is traceable, and will witnesses prove willing to testify?

And fourth, if anything did go on, who specifically was involved — and what, exactly, did Donald Trump himself know?

Over at Fox News, commentator Erick Erickson focused on the lack of any evidence in the indictment of collusion, even if there was illegality on the part of Manafort and Gates. He insisted that the "left" will be disappointed by the lack of any grand conspiracy, which would allow them to divert attention from an unsuccessful Clinton campaign:

"Much of the political left is cheering about the indictment of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. They think it will undermine President Trump. The problem, though, is that it appears increasingly likely that Manafort’s indictment has nothing to do with the Trump campaign...

As long as Robert Mueller fails to turn up evidence to show Russia stole the election, the American left will continue to believe in an elaborate conspiracy. It is far easier to believe that than to believe Hillary Clinton ran a terrible campaign."

The Daily Caller offered an exclusive interview with Trump adviser Roger Stone, who encouraged the president to launch an investigation into the Uranium One deal, which occurred while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, rather than firing Mueller, which some on the right have suggested. Stone insisted that, "President Donald Trump directing the Justice Depart,ment to appoint a special counsel to investigate an Obama-era Uranium deal is Trump’s ‘only chance for survival’":

"Trump has received past suggestions to fire Mueller, however, Stone maintains the president "doesn’t have to fire anybody.” Instead, Stone wants Trump to direct the DOJ to appoint a special counsel to investigate “all involved in the Uranium One investigation.”

The president, meanwhile, has been busy on Twitter:

What do you think?

What do you think are the implications of all of this? Should the investigation be allowed to continue and take whatever direction Mueller decides? Do these recent indictments and plea deals make you suspect there’s more, or that this is the end of the beginning? Should anyone be looking into the Uranium One deal, or is that just an attempt to divert attention from the special counsel investigation?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty via Vanity Fair)

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