The talking heads on cable news this morning were still digesting the 12-count indictment against former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Richard Gates and the guilty plea of former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous when President Trump got to work on changing the subject.
The president took to Twitter to deliver a new broadside against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and suggest it should focus on Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia, not his.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” the president tweeted. “But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
Moments later, Trump tweeted again that “there is NO COLLUSION,” apparently referring to speculation that Manafort, Gates and others in his campaign worked in concert with the Russian government to promote his candidacy and undermine Clinton.
Trump’s diversionary moves recall hints earlier in the administration that he might try to have Mueller fired and the investigation shut down. At least two bills that would protect the investigation are pending in Congress.
The Manafort/Gates indictment does not touch directly on the campaign. But Trump is mistaken in asserting that the charges involve things that occurred well before the two men went to work for him. The indictment alleges a conspiracy against the U.S. government that continued through the election and into this year.
As part of the conspiracy, the men are said to have lied to federal investigators and laundered millions of dollars they received from the government of Ukraine and a Ukrainian political party aligned with the Russian government in order to evade federal taxes.
Manafort was chairman of the Trump campaign for several months last year before reports of his ties to Ukraine and Russia triggered his departure. When he secured the Republican presidential nomination last July, Trump lavished praised on Manafort and the team of Republican political operatives he brought to the campaign.
“Paul Manafort has done a fantastic job… and all of Paul’s people,” Trump said then.
Gates, a longtime Manafort associate who was deputy manager of the Trump campaign, remained there after Manafort’s departure and later helped run the Trump inaugural committee. He then worked briefly for America First Policies, a non-profit “social welfare” group formed to promote Trump’s agenda.
Papadopolous pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to a single count of making false statements; the charge and his plea were not disclosed until this morning and he is said to be cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections