The first big takeaway from this morning’s flurry of charging and plea documents with respect to Paul Manafort Jr., Richard Gates III, and George Papadopoulos is this: The President of the United States had as his campaign chairman a man who had allegedly served for years as an unregistered foreign agent for a puppet government of Vladimir Putin, a man who was allegedly laundering remarkable sums of money even while running the now-president’s campaign, a man who allegedly lied about all of this to the FBI and the Justice Department.
The second big takeaway is even starker: A member of President Trump’s campaign team now admits that he was working with people he knew to be tied to the Russian government to “arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government officials” and to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of hacked emails—and that he lied about these activities to the FBI. He briefed President Trump on at least some them.
Before we dive any deeper into the Manafort-Gates indictment—charges to which both pled not guilty to today—or the Papadopoulos plea and stipulation, let’s pause a moment over these two remarkable claims, one of which we must still consider as allegation and the other of which we can now consider as admitted fact. President Trump, in short, had on his campaign at least one person, and allegedly two people, who actively worked with adversarial foreign governments in a fashion they sought to criminally conceal from investigators. One of them ran the campaign. The other, meanwhile, was interfacing with people he “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials” and with a person introduced to him as “a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin with connections to senior Russian government officials.” All of this while President Trump was assuring the American people that he and his campaign had "nothing to do with Russia."
The release of these documents should, though it probably won’t, put to rest the suggestion that there are no serious questions of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the latter’s interference on the former’s behalf during the 2016 election. It also raises a profound set of questions of its own about the truthfulness of a larger set of representations Trump campaign officials and operatives have made both in public, and presumably, under oath and to investigators.
And here’s the rub: This is only Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s opening salvo.
As opening salvos go, it’s a doozy.
Every indication is that Papadoupolos was flipped to get Manafort and Gates, and that the two of them are going to be pressured to flip on everyone else: Michael Flynn and Carter Page, then Jared Kushner, then Jeff Sessions, and finally Donald Trump himself.
Considering the charges being laid out for Manafort and Gates, there's zero doubt in my mind that indictments are sealed and waiting for Flynn and Page at the minimum. The big tip-off is the FARA charges against Manafort and Gates: violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. We know Flynn and Page both lied about working for foreign powers, and being willing to prosecute on that means Flynn and Page are certainly in the crosshairs. You can make the case that Kushner is facing similar charges considering all the times he's lied about foreign contacts.
It also means Jeff Sessions is most likely facing perjury charges. Remember, he lied to Congress under oath on a number of occasions. Sessions was at that same March 2016 meeting that Papadopoulos and Trump were at as part of the Trump foreign policy squad. Sessions has tesified under oath that nothing happened there, but Papadopoulos's confession means otherwise.
And that leads us to Trump. At the very least, as the Lawfare team points out, the collusion story is very, very real. A lot of Trump regime folks, current and former, are in dire trouble right now. Who and how much trouble, we're going to see over the next few weeks and months.
We're now in the next phase of the game, and everything is now playing for keeps.