After months of speculation and waiting, Robert Mueller has made his first move. The grand jury has been assembled, the indictments have been made and the pawns have been captured. Manafort and Gates have been charged with a long list of crimes ranging from money laundering to conspiracy against the United States. George Papadopoulos faces criminal charges after lying about his contact with a Russian linked professor who offered information about Hilary Clinton’s campaign. More ominously, Papadopoulos is implied to have been ‘flipped’ and may become a cooperating witness against Donald Trump.
Mueller’s investigation struck both sides as well. Tony Podesta, the brother of Hilary Clinton’s campaign manager has resigned following revelations that his firm worked alongside Manafort and may have benefited a regime friendly to the Kremlin. It is still a long road before the results of the investigation are publicly revealed if they are at all, but the first step is usually the biggest one you take.
Robert Mueller is a bad man to pick a fight with at the best of times. An experienced lawyer and civil servant who have served both Republican and Democratic administrations, Mueller is principled and praised for his non-partisan handling of cases. He is generally credited with turning the FBI into one of the world’s top organizations handling counterespionage and counterterrorism.
His team comprises of some of the best and brightest in Washington and in America including the former assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. It doesn’t necessarily mean Trump will be impeached but he doesn’t really need to be. It just needs to be damaging enough to bring down the administration.
Trump’s outbursts are attempts to downplay the severity of the crimes committed while throwing up distractions by accusing Democrats. They reveal much more though. Trump is clearly afraid of Mueller and the investigation and he should be. Trump must know that Flynn, Sessions and Jared Kushner are next on Mueller’s list and he knows that if Mueller applies the right kind of pressure, they’ll crack. He’s already got Papadopoulos in his corner and charging Manafort and Gates might yield greater results if they make a deal.
Trump is now backing into a corner. The investigation is now a fact and can no longer be dismissed as ‘fake news’ via Twitter. Trump’s frequent use of the word means the phrase has lost most of the power it had last year. If Trump tries to protect his friends or obstruct Mueller’s investigation, it will signal his guilt more clearly than any online rant has done yet.
Trump must be kicking himself or more likely kicking everyone around him. Firing James Comey and trying to get him to stop investigating Flynn seemed like such a good idea. But, like Mueller, Comey was a bad man to pick a fight with. Comey, Murkowski, McCain, Corker, Mueller, the list of people you shouldn’t pick fights with is a long one.
Yet Trump will pick fights with people. He continues to see the presidency as the set of a long-running reality TV show. The world is his audience and his goal is good ratings. If he has to lie, cheat, backstab and belittle others to do it, say no more. In some way, Trump has been unusually lucky. He has managed to stay in office despite controversies that would destroy the careers of his predecessors. The Russia investigation was always a threat but never really a tangible one. Until now.
The storm has broken over Washington and there is an extra air of tension in the administration as everyone wonders who will be indicted next. There are already several sealed indictments handed to the federal judge which is standard procedure in any criminal case, but this is hardly a normal case. Suspicions are rampant although the names of those who are likely to be indicted are pretty obvious. The investigation has hit and there is no way Trump can dodge it this time.
It’s still early days though. The investigation is likely to take a long time to reach any conclusion. Despite the drama of the first day, the investigation is set to drag on for at least another year. It’s likely Trump will, like Bill Clinton, serve out his term and step down before any charges can hurt him. The GOP will stay with him and Trump’s base isn’t interested.
But Mueller’s one-two punch will hit harder than anything Trump has faced this year. On top of everything else, this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Trump might downplay the charges or plead innocence, but his own actions have brought these events upon him. Nothing changes the fact that George Papadopoulos has lots of dirt on the Trump campaign and his evidence will be especially damning. For the first time in months, Trump’s downfall is no longer an idle fantasy
The message is clear. Mueller is on the warpath and he is gathering the evidence he needs to push his case. Only time will tell how much pressure it will take for Trump to go.