By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (11/2/17
Dear Fellow Readers,
What happened and why is it important?
Special Counsel Robert Mueller Charges Three Former Trump Campaign Officials
Mueller is serious. Mueller is organized. Mueller’s actions are very bad news for Trump, his campaign staff, White House staff and associates. Trump is very pissed and his support groups are working hard to deflect and attack.
This is very big news and very important regarding Trump-Russia and interference in our 2016 election. The timing is earlier than expected and the impact sends a clear signal.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official and business associate of Manafort. Manafort and Gates were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and other charges related to their work for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. Charges against Manafort were not a surprise, the charges against Gates were a bit surprising. While the activities aren’t entirely related to their work for the Trump campaign, this is the former campaign manager as well as Gates, Manafort’s associate, that worked with Trump long after the election. While Trump and Trump supporters felt some sense of relief with this initial news the charges are designed to make this an easy case for prosecution.
Papadopoulos admission of guilt is big
The surprise and more important news, came ninety minutes later when it was reported that Mueller charged George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy adviser and member of the Trump campaign foreign policy team headed by (then) Sen. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III (R-ALA), now Trump’s attorney general. Papadopoulos admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. The Washington DC federal court unsealed a signed plea agreement based on his efforts on behalf of the Trump campaign to make connections and set meetings with Russians. The plea agreement was signed on October 5, 2017. Papadopoulos was arrested on July 25, 2017. The plea agreement refers to him as a “proactive cooperator” for the time in between, meaning, many say, he most likely wore a wire for the FBI. Important to remember, this is a clear, unambiguous admission of guilt, not simply charges.
While the Manafort charges were anticipated and the Gates charges were a minor surprise, the Papadopoulos plea agreement was a big surprise and it’s worth noting there were no leaks of any of this by the court, the FBI or Mueller’s team.
The Papadopoulos news sends a clear message of the seriousness and the risks faced by anyone who played a role in Trump-Russia collusion. Papadopoulos cooperated and this means Mueller and the FBI know a lot that is not (yet) disclosed, greatly increasing the risk for anyone else that also might choose to not cooperate or even lie. Further to this, Papadopoulos’s supervisor, Sam Clovis, testified to the same grand jury after Papadopoulos’s plea agreement was signed, but before it was unsealed. This is a clear indication of more news related to the Trump campaign foreign policy team.
Russian connection to Trump campaign clearer
More importantly, the Russian offers to Papadopoulos in both language and events matches the build-up to the Donald Trump Jr. Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, Jared Kushner and assorted Russians. We now know the offer of Russian help with “dirt on Hillary” was already established – the same language, the same process, the same goals – prior to Donnie Jr.’s meeting; they went into this meeting knowing the true offer. This news also establishes that several senior Trump campaign staff knew the Russians had hacked Clinton campaign manger John Podesta’s emails as early as March 2016 (though it is possible references are to Clinton’s 33,000 emails or the hacked DNC emails).
The combination of these two early confirmations makes the Trump campaign denials of Russian communication and collusion far less credible.
Also damning is the Papadopoulos statements about his attendance at a March 31, 2016 Trump foreign policy meeting chaired by Sessions and attended by candidate Donald Trump. During the meeting Papadopoulos explained his Russian connections in an attempt to set a meeting between Trump and Putin. Trump is said to have “listened with interest”.
Following the Mueller news Trump erupted with anger. His supporters, especially Fox News, stepped up the deflections and attacks. One of Trump’s first tweets following the Manafort and Gates news was, “…Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” He did not tweet for some time following the Papadopoulos news. While Trump and the White House worked to distance themselves from the news, Manafort has previously shared that he’s known Trump for years and remember, it was Manafort that got Mike Pence into the Vice President position ahead of the odds-on-favorite Gov. Chris Christie.
These charges are the first of many. The initial goal is to ‘flip’ Manafort and Gates while using Papadopoulos to send a message. Is it possible attorney general Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III has perjured himself?
Expect many more fireworks from Trump. Trump’s lawyers seem determined to convince us Trump intends to continue his support of Mueller and the investigation. Meanwhile former senior adviser Steve Bannon is badgering him to go to war, and Trump is blaming his problems on advice from Jared Kusher, his son-in-law and senior adviser.
We are light years past “nothing to do with Russia”.
As the news broke, The New York Times editorial page asked, Is the White House Scared Yet?
“Early Monday, Paul Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s campaign during several crucial months in 2016, and a , Rick Gates, who was also a Trump campaign official, after being named in an indictment obtained by Robert Mueller III, who was appointed as special counsel in May to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”
Both pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment. Bail has been set at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates.
Ninety minutes after the Manafort–Gates news there was this:
“Surprise! Soon after Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates turned themselves in, newly that another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty in early October to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations he had with a professor who had substantial ties to Russian government officials.”
Though the London-based professor had previously met Papadopoulos, he was only interested in a relationship after learning Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign. He is viewed as a person recruiting agents, though not a Russian intelligence agent.
“The guilty plea is the most direct evidence connecting the campaign to the Russian efforts to help elect Mr. Trump. After days of dishonesty, the White House that Mr. Manafort and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had attended a meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with Kremlin-connected intermediaries who said they had dirt on Mrs. Clinton. And the Trump adviser Roger Stone (recently for abusive and profane tweets) has acknowledged having contacts with WikiLeaks, which has been a conduit for Russian-hacked emails.”
This is the first time a campaign manager has been charged with money laundering while working for a foreign agent. Russia – an adversarial foreign government.
Manafort was expected, Gates was worthy of raising an eyebrow – Papadopoulos is a surprise and hugely significant:
“For starters, the plea describes Mr. Papadopoulos’s efforts to gather negative information on Hillary Clinton from officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry and a professor with ties to Russia who told Mr. Papadopoulos that Moscow had “thousands of emails” of “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton. This paints perhaps the clearest picture so far of Russia’s attempt to provide assistance to the Trump campaign — and the willingness of at least some campaign staff members to accept that assistance.”
The offer uses the same language that surfaces later in the communications to Trump’s son Donnie Trump Jr. leading to the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donnie Jr., Manafort, Kushner and a handful of Russians. Here’s the jeopardy created by this news:
“…the episode that prompts the guilty plea is a virtual carbon copy of the infamous June 9, 2016, meeting that Mr. Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. attended with a Russian lawyer. That meeting was set up through an email exchange between Mr. Trump Jr. and one of Donald Trump’s former business associates who told the younger Mr. Trump that a senior Russian government official had documents “that would incriminate Hillary” and that “would be very useful to your father.” Mr. Trump Jr.’s email response: “I love it.”
“If any of the principals in the July 9 meeting lied to the F.B.I. about what transpired, they are in immediate criminal jeopardy for the same reasons for which Mr. Papadopoulos had to plead guilty. No doubt Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump Jr. are huddling with their lawyers and wondering if they are next.”
At face value Papadopoulos is less important than Manafort or Gates, but he has a lot of information, he was ‘there’ and he is cooperating … and maybe wearing a wire!
For a different presentation – sometimes I get different insights listening to an audio presentation from someone like Keith Olbermann (The Resistance) or Rachel Maddow (MSNBC).
Let’s take note of the references made in the indictments citing communications, meetings and coordination with other Trump campaign members such as “campaign supervisor”, “senior policy adviser”, “adviser”, “several members of the campaign’s foreign policy team” and “supervisor”. This is done by design so as not to draw attention to persons that may not be central to any crimes or investigation of crimes. That said, we will learn these identities over time and understand their roles.
We know from a Halloween Day piece in Politico that one of these is Sam Clovis, who at the time, was Trump campaign co-chair and policy adviser. Presently he is the nominee to serve as chief scientist to the Agriculture Department though he has absolutely no scientific background or credentials: Clovis Said To Be ‘cooperative witness’ In Senate Russia Probe.
The point of consistency here seems to be that Clovis is asked to take on roles for Trump for which he is completely and utterly unqualified.
Clovis brought Papadopoulos into the campaign in March 2016, when he was asked to put together a foreign-policy advisory committee, according to the administration and campaign officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Trump felt pressure to hastily assemble a team because he was getting criticism for a lack of foreign policy manpower, these people said.
But Clovis, an Air Force veteran and radio host who taught management and public policy at Morningside College in Iowa until 2015, didn’t have foreign-policy connections and scrambled to find people willing to align themselves with Trump. He brought in a group of people with little vetting, the officials said.
Clovis was Papadopoulos’s supervisor and has also testified to the same Washington DC grand jury that brought charges; he testified after Papadopoulos accepted a plea bargain but before the plea agreement was unsealed.
What do we know about Trump’s reactions while all of this was unfolding?
Well, one can imagine but the Monday Washington Post had some reports: Upstairs At Home, With The TV On, Trump Fumes Over Russia Indictments.
“President Trump woke before dawn on Monday and burrowed in at the White House residence to wait for the Russia bombshell he knew was coming.”
The first news to break was of course about Manafort and Gates.
“Initially, Trump felt vindicated. Though frustrated that the media were linking him to the indictment and tarnishing his presidency, he cheered that the charges against Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were focused primarily on activities that began before his campaign. Trump tweeted at 10:28 a.m., “there is NO COLLUSION!””
But over time the narrative changed, though Trump’s White House lawyer Ty Cobb assured us that Trump is “spending all of his time on presidential work.”
But as the day wore on…
“The walls are closing in,” said one senior Republican in close contact with top staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “Everyone is freaking out.”
Following the breaking news Friday night to expect indictments of Monday, Trump attempted business-as-usual for himself:
“On Sunday, Trump had attempted to seek refuge from the political squall with another round of golf at his Virginia club. Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) were set to join him, according to two people briefed on the plans — an afternoon of camaraderie and talk about his tax proposal.”
Or a day later, following the charges, perhaps Vanity Fair had a more accurate view.
“Until now, Robert Mueller has haunted Donald Trump’s White House as a hovering, mostly unseen menace. But by of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and a surprise from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mueller announced loudly that the Russia investigation poses an existential threat to the president. “Here’s what Manafort’s indictment tells me: Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of and the Trump Organization,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup. You can’t go any lower. He’s fucked.””
“Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He’s frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. “Trump wants to be critical of Mueller,” one person who’s been briefed on Trump’s thinking says. “He thinks it’s unfair criticism. Clinton hasn’t gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?” According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller’s appointment, according to a source briefed on the call. When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. “Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history,” Nunberg said….”
Meanwhile, back in Badger Land we have our Wisconsin Sen. Ron “Rojo” Johnson (R-WI): Ron Johnson Stands By Call For Special Counsel Robert Mueller To Resign.
Ron Johnson, ever-principled, assures us that he is not influenced by day-to-day events, he stands by his view:
“I take the position that we shouldn’t have a special counsel at this time. We should let the (congressional) committees do their work,” Johnson told the editorial board.”
Johnson’s view is that Mueller is forever compromised because of his relationship with FBI Director James Comey and that the subjects of investigations should be “the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s private email server along with recent information regarding sales of U.S. uranium while Mueller was FBI director.”
Given his track record and slavish Mike Pence-like cultish devotion to Trump, there’s no reason to expect any better from Johnson.
So was Manafort’s influence on the Trump campaign important? Mother Jones magazine explores why this question is important and linked to Trump EVEN if nothing more happens beyond Manafort’s indictment: How Paul Manafort Tried To BS Me—And The World.
David Corn, of Mother Jones, reports on his interaction with Manafort at the Republican convention. Manafort and Trump abruptly backed off decades long U.S. positions on our commitment to NATO and NATO countries:
I joined the crowd of interrogators and grilled Manafort on a different topic:
What about the New York Times interview in which Donald Trump says he may not defend NATO allies and may rip up agreements with allies?
That’s not what he said.
That’s what he’s quoted in the Times.
That’s not accurate.
Those are direct quotes. You’re saying the Times got it wrong?
I am saying the Times got it wrong.
Maybe they have a tape recording of the interview.
I don’t know what they have. But Mr Trump’s position on NATO is very clear. He has said that he wants to bring NATO together and modernize it and get them to work together and carry their own fair share.
Hours later, the Times posted a of the interview. No surprise: It backed up the newspaper’s account. In fact, during the exchange in which Trump said he might not protect an ally, he asked if the reporters were recording his responses
This was one of many flip-flop-flip changes in U.S. policy Trump made under the influence of Manafort. Russia became our friend, sanctions against Russia were bad… up was down; black was white and truth…
I want to briefly come back to how timelines of Trump-Russia collusion events now come together. Here’s just one example; knowing what we now know, consider all that had happened before Kushner and Sessions ‘might’ have said Hello to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on April 27, 2016. Or given the meeting Trump foreign policy meeting Sessions chaired on March 31, 2016, consider Sessions’ June 13, 2017 statement under oath that, “further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
March 6, 2016 Trump names Papadopoulos to foreign policy ‘team’
March 19, 2016 Podesta receives email to update password and is subsequently hacked
March 24, 2016 Papadopoulus receives ‘invite’ to meet with Russians in London
March 28, 2016 Manafort is hired as campaign chair
March 31, 2016 Sessions chairs foreign policy meeting with Trump and Papadopoulos present; Papadopoulos pitches his Russian connections for meetings
April ? DNC network hacked
April 18, 2016 Papadopoulos is introduced to Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contact to try to set up a Trump-Putin meeting
April 26, 2016 Papadopoulos has breakfast meeting in London re: “thousands of emails”
April 27, 2016 Jared Kushner and Sen. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III meet Russian Ambassador Kislyak at Trump’s Mayflower Hotel foreign policy speech
Does this mean Sessions lied under oath? Has Trump being lying about “no contact with Russians”? Apparently: Trump ‘listened with interest’ At Papadopolous’ Pitch For Campaign Meeting With Putin.
“In the midst of a coordinated White House effort to distance Donald Trump from former staffer George Papadopoulos, The New York Times Tuesday on details from a March 31, 2016 campaign meeting.
“Citing a former campaign aide who attended the meeting, The Times reported Trump “listened with interest” as Papadopoulos pitched the idea of a personal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Though campaign supervisor Sam Clovis worried about the “optics” of a meeting with the Russian strongman, Trump asked questions of Papadopoulos’s plan.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s ratings are tanking. Gallup had Trump’s approval rating hitting a new low on October 29, 2017 at 33% while his disapproval rating hit at a new high at 62% on October 30, 2017.
I will add just one simple update on Russian use of social media to influence the election in favor of Trump. As I predicted, to date we’ve only been shown the tip of the iceberg and I still expect the use and impact to be deepened with new news: Facebook Says Russian-Backed Election Content Reached 126 Million Americans.
One paragraph that makes this very clear – Twitter is now saying they have found TEN TIMES as many Russian accounts as originally reported – there will be more:
“Twitter also found 2,752 accounts associated with the Russia-run Internet Research Agency, up from the 201 the company originally disclosed. The company has suspended all 2,752 accounts and is “proactively giving committee investigators the handles of these accounts.”
Let’s end with a stark comparison and a prediction. The comparison: Manafort is under house arrest and has a $10 million bail; Papadopoulos is shopping for a speaker’s bureau and a book publisher. Now for the prediction.
“I guarantee you more shoes will drop,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). He added later: “I guarantee you the scandal’s not over.”
(Commoner Call cartoons by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )