There's no smoking gun just yet. But the Trump-Russia scandal has the potential to spark an even more damaging US constitutional crisis than Watergateby Calder Walton / November 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
For those watching the Russia-Trump investigation being led by US special counsel Robert Mueller, this week’s revelations feel like a watershed: Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was indicted on 12 felony charges, including tax evasion and conspiracy against the United States. The last time this occurred was in 1974, when president Nixon’s campaign manager was indicted. Hitherto faint historical echoes of Watergate are now becoming deafening. The question is whether history will repeat itself and follow the pattern of Watergate—or, maybe, produce an even worse constitutional crisis.
The stench of collusion
When court documents were unsealed on Monday morning revealing Manafort’s indictment charges, Trump took to his usual medium, Twitter, to blast out: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign”, the president posted, adding his usual vitriole about “crooked Hillary”, and then hammering out, for good measure, “NO COLLUSION”.
The indictments charges against Manafort do not expressly mention Russia or collusion—though Putin is surely lurking in the background, as Manafort’s tax evasion relates to millions he obtained while working as a consultant to the pro-Putin leader of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukoych, now ousted and living in Russia under Putin’s protection. Despite the initial drama of the charges against Manafort, it soon became clear that they were something of a side-show—probably deliberately designed as such by Mueller. The real Russia story lay in other court documents, unveiled soon after Manafort’s, concerning a former foreign policy aide on the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, who had secretly pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and started working with them. As news about Papadopoulus broke, there was a conspicuous silence from Trump on Twitter.
The 14-page unsealed court document shows that Papadopoulos had previously pled guilty to lying to FBI agents about his efforts to solicit “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from an unnamed “Professor” in London and an unnamed female Russian national, who were closely connected to the Kremlin. In the jargon of the intelligence world, these people seem to have been acting as “cut outs”, or intermediaries, between Russia and Trump campaign officials. According to the indictment, “The Professor” told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians “have dirt” on Clinton and “they have thousands of emails” about her.
This is important because the Democrats’ email server was hacked in March, but this did not become…