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Manafort Down

So much for the Bob Mueller investigation being a fake news witch hunt. Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates, and former Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos have all been indicted.

Manafort and Gates are charged with concealing their work as agents of a foreign government, money laundering, and a number of additional crimes. Papadapolous just pled guilty for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials on behalf of the Trump campaign.

None of this means Trump himself is guilty of anything criminal, but he absolutely is guilty of terrible judgement. I confess to being unfamiliar with Manafort before the president hired him to manage his campaign last March, but I knew instantly and automatically that he was bad news for one simple reason—he spent years working for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the disgraced former strongman and Putin poodle overthrown during the Maidan Revolution and now living in exile in Russia.

The best that can be said for Americans who would work for a guy like that is that they’re amoral mercenaries with no sense of political decency and a high tolerance for thuggery and corruption. Sure, it’s possible to work cleanly and honestly for corrupt thugs without becoming corrupt yourself, but it’s also probably safe to say that most clean and honest people wouldn’t want to, and either way, Manafort, if he’s guilty—and keep in mind that there’s a 93 percent conviction rate in federal cases—didn’t pull it off or even try. He had a giant red flag next to his name long before Donald Trump hired him.

Trump didn’t see the red flag or, if he did, he ignored it.

His supporters insisted that it was okay that he had no political experience and knew next to nothing about foreign affairs because his advisors would help him out. The problem here is that he wasn’t—and isn’t—knowledgeable enough to properly vet his advisors. He actually didn’t know that hiring a whole batch of people with Kremlin ties—not just Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos but also Mike Flynn and Carter Page—virtually guaranteed a whole raft of trouble for himself and the country.

Manafort is sucking up all the media oxygen right now—we all know who he is, and just about everybody but Trump has known he’s dirty for more than a year—but the indictment and guilty plea of foreign policy George Papadopoulos may prove more troublesome in the long run.

He lied about reaching out to a person named in the indictment, oddly enough, as “the professor,” a Kremlin-linked Russian national in an attempt to link the Trump campaign with Russian officials and even Vladimir Putin himself. The so-called professor told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and thousands of stolen emails. Papadopoulos sent an email to seven members of Donald Trump’s staff with the following text in the subject line: “Meeting with Russian Leadership - Including Putin.”

And the Washington Post reports that Papadopoulos is cooperating with the Mueller investigation, which generally means he’ll trade dirt on bigger fish, so to speak, for a more lenient sentence.

“Papadopolous is the big one,” former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter tweeted today. “Lesser charges but it is about collusion. And he is cooperating. Bad news for Trump.”

Indeed. This was never fake news, never a witch hunt. So far, it defines the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency more than anything else and will go down in history as such.

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