The investigation into the “Russiagate” allegations has entered a new phase. Three Trump campaign aides including Paul Manafort, who worked as campaign manager for Trump’s presidential campaign team last year, are being prosecuted. I expect this development will break new ground on the allegations and lead to a more thorough investigation.
Two of the defendants, including Manafort, were indicted on 12 charges, including money laundering involving more than $18 million (approximately 2 billion yen), tax evasion, and perjury.
According to the indictments, the defendants acted as pro-Russian agents and lobbied on behalf of former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych without the knowledge of U.S. authorities, and were paid several tens of millions of dollars in compensation.
Manafort participated in the Trump campaign for only half a year, but even if his secret work for a foreign power was only temporary, he still took part in the election of the highest-ranking official in the United States. This incident goes beyond a mere problem of national security.
On one hand, George Papadopoulos, who previously served as part of the foreign policy advisory panel for the Trump campaign, testified that it was not true he contacted a university professor said to have connections with Russian authorities before he became a foreign policy adviser. This testimony reflects an acknowledgment of the crime.
“Russiagate” is generally classified as having the following elements: one, suspicion that not only did Russia interfere in the presidential election in order to give President Trump an advantage, but that the Trump campaign colluded with them to do so; two, suspicion that Trump obstructed justice by dismissing James Comey, the former FBI director,; and three, suspicion that Trump has business ties to Russia.
The indictment of Trump’s former aides is thought to support charges of collusion by the president, but the charges do not have a direct link to suspected collusion. The investigation team led by special counsel Robert Mueller has opened the door with these indictments, drawing out strong testimony from the former aides. The key now is whether Mueller’s investigation is drawing closer to the heart of the matter.
Trump criticized Manafort’s indictment, saying on Twitter, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”
However, the indictment includes charges that occurred in 2016, when Manafort had already joined the campaign. As usual, Trump should make sure his statements are accurate.
The current administration has been shrouded by a fog of suspicion that hasn’t subsided even in the nine months since the administration was formed. Yet, Trump shows no sign of sitting down to work out this political situation. The ambition he had during the presidential election to improve relations with Russia also doesn’t seem to hold any promise.
If the government does not resolve this ambiguity, it cannot move forward. Trump needs to willingly cooperate with this investigation.
In the political world of the United States, there is a strong fear that Trump may move to dismiss Mueller. I want to issue a warning in case he makes this fatal mistake.