Shortly after 8 a.m. EST Monday morning, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort surrendered himself at the Washington, D.C. field office of the FBI. According to The New York Times, Manafort and his former business associate, Rick Gates, will be charged with multiple federal crimes as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Supporters of President Trump have already begun spinning in an attempt to minimize the seriousness of the first indictment in the Russia probe. Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) said on CNN this morning:
“This could be a big old nothingburger if it was pre-campaign.”
Though details of the indictment haven’t yet been made public, the Times notes that Manafort:
“Had been under investigation for violations of federal tax law, money laundering and whether he appropriately disclosed his foreign lobbying.”
What does this first indictment mean for Donald Trump and the administration? It likely means that Mueller is going to be looking closely at financial crimes, and that could well mean that Trump is in very big trouble.
The Russia Connection
While Manafort took large sums of money from Russian interests for alleged lobbying he did on behalf of clients in both Russia and Ukraine–$10 million a year in one case–he is also suspected of laundering at least $26 million for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But Trump also has a history of questionable dealings with Russian billionaires. In 2008, he sold a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, to Dmitry Rybolovlev for the price of $95 million. Trump had only paid $41 million for the property. Was this a way for Russia to give Trump a payoff in exchange for him being willing to launder millions in illegal cash for them?
Follow the Money
The first public steps we see from Robert Mueller’s team suggest the investigation is indeed following the same pattern as the charges which eventually brought down Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. Mueller is staying on the money trail, and that would seem to be where Trump is most vulnerable.
In July, during an interview, the president was asked if Mueller would be overreaching if he began looking into his or his family’s finances. Trump replied:
“I would say yeah.”
Totally unprompted, Trump then added:
“I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t.
“They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years.”
Sounds a bit defensive and naive in light of what we now know. Trump’s reaction to Manafort’s indictment will likely tell us even more about just how scared the president is. Stay tuned.
Featured Image Via CNN