Donald Trump's former campaign director, Paul Manafort, pleaded not guilty yesterday to numerous charges stemming from the possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.
It's practically become a tic: When Donald Trump is in trouble, he tries to demonize Hillary Clinton.
That's what he did yesterday on Twitter, while an American special counsel investigating Russia formally indicted three members of Trump's campaign team.
“But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” was the American president's response. As far as red herrings go, we've seen better.
After all, it was Trump, not Clinton, who hired Paul Manafort and made him the director of his presidential campaign for three months in 2016.
This veteran of political communications and his associate, Richard Gates, were charged yesterday with pocketing tens of millions of dollars without disclosing it to the IRS.
These funds were provided by former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. This close associate of Vladimir Putin was advised by Manafort. The relationship between Yanukovych and Manafort has long been documented. Even if Trump can truly say he had nothing to do with this scandal, he knew perfectly well whom he was dealing with when he hired this odious lobbyist.
It was also Trump and not Clinton who counted a young researcher and consultant named George Papadopoulos among his advisers for foreign policy.
Papadopoulos was also indicted yesterday, specifically of having lied to FBI investigators.* What he attempted to conceal is crucial: He had repeated contact with certain individuals closely associated with the Russian government, notably:
–A British "professor" who told Papadopoulos that he had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, explicitly referencing "thousands of emails" from the Democratic candidate.
–A woman introduced to Papadopoulos – deceptively, it seems – as Vladimir Putin's niece.
Among the other troubling details revealed yesterday, we learned that Papadopoulos told his superiors within the core of Trump's campaign about the exchanges with his Russian sources on several occasions. He kept them – as well as others – informed of his efforts to organize a “history making” meeting between representatives of the Russian government and Trump's campaign. “Great work," one of his respondents told him.
These revelations confirm once and for all that there was real and malicious enthusiasm among certain members of the Republican president's entourage for the idea of eventual "cooperation" with Putin's advisers, all with the aim of defeating Clinton and seizing the White House.
Papadopoulos even wanted a meeting between the Republican candidate and Putin. He expressed this desire during an important meeting of Trump's "national security" team, which he attended in March 2016.
Let's be clear: This doesn't mean that there was any collusion between the Kremlin and Trump's team. There isn't yet sufficient proof of that.
On the other hand, it is staggering to see Trump stubbornly brushing aside or minimizing the accusations, allegations and evidence surrounding the contact between his team and representatives of the Russian regime. It's an increasingly disturbing spectacle.
Yesterday's indictments prove the extent to which the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller is not the "witch hunt" that the American president believes it to be.
Thirty-three percent: This is the American people's approval rating of Trump's presidency. According to Gallup, this is a historic low.
*Editor’s note: George Papadopoulos was arrested in July and pleaded guilty in early October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. That plea agreement was disclosed at the time of the Manafort and Gates indictments.