The indictment of Paul Manafort alone does not confirm President Trump's alleged collusion with Russians attempting to manipulate the 2016 election in his favor. However, the charges against Manafort and his past associations with some of the world's most notorious despots says something about the character of the man who chose Manafort to run his presidential campaign.
Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates were charged Monday in a 12-count federal indictment with conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, and making false statements. The charges stem from Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of the Russia allegations.
Trump's choice of Manafort to be his campaign manager raised eyebrows among those who knew the consultant's background. For years, he benefited from a cozy business relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who once bragged, "I don't separate myself from the state," the state being the government of seeming president-for-life Vladimir Putin.
Apparently, the fact that Manafort also had been a political consultant for despotic leaders including Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, and Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi didn't bother Trump. But Manafort lost his campaign manager job when the full extent of his work in Ukraine became a liability.
Manafort's firm, according to the Wall Street Journal, earned more than $17 million working for pro-Russian parties in Ukraine from 2012 to2014. But only in June of this year did Manafort register in the U.S. under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for his past business in Ukraine.
The charges against Manafort and Gates, who pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon, did not specifically tie them to the conclusion made by U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin organized a sophisticated campaign using social media to damage Hillary Clinton's election chances
Meanwhile, it was revealed Monday that another former Trump campaign member, George Papadopoulos, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about having contact with a professor with ties to the Kremlin. Papadopoulos admitted that he lied when he told the FBI his contact with the Russian occurred before he became an adviser to Trump. In fact, their meeting occurred after he joined the campaign.
The president circled the wagons in anticipation of developments in Mueller's investigation and fired a volley of tweets both before and after the indictments were announced, suggesting that Mueller's charges were irrelevant and that he was being treated unfairly. "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????" said one tweet, followed by "Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"
The president's certitude isn't reassuring, given the character of the people he chose to navigate his route to the White House. At this point in Mueller's investigation, there are still more questions than answers. But with these first indictments and one guilty plea, that may soon change. Confidence that the former FBI director will eventually uncover the truth grew considerably with his actions Monday.
That's all the public wants — the truth. The cloud hanging over this presidency needs to go away. Until it does, this country will remain divided into camps and incapable of finding consensus on crucial issues that threaten its future, including taxes, health care, and national security. Mueller is on the right track. His persistence is what we need.