The headline news Monday morning was the indictment of President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, on 12 counts of tax fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. But the bigger story may ultimately lie in the unsealing of charges against a lesser-known figure, a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign named George Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos indictment provides more direct evidence of collusion with the Russian government—and suggests that more indictments of bigger names are on their way.
Papadopoulos was indicted for making false statements to the FBI about meetings that he’d had with Russians. Specifically, he claimed that the meetings occurred before he started working for Trump’s campaign when, in fact, they occurred afterward. He said that the Russian in question was “a nothing” when, in fact, he had (and Papadopoulos understood that he had) “substantial connections to Russian government officials.” He also neglected to tell the FBI that he’d had further contacts with officials from the Russian foreign ministry, who wanted to help, and set up a meeting with, Trump—a message that he conveyed in a meeting with senior campaign officials.
The help these officials were offering, the indictment states, was “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”
If all this doesn’t make Trump higher-ups nervous, the indictment’s final paragraph might do the trick: “On July 27, 2017,” it states, “defendant PAPADOPOULOS was arrested upon his arrival at Dulles International Airport. Following his arrest, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”
The indictment, which also contains a guilty plea signed by the defendant, is dated Oct. 5. In other words, Papadopoulos has been talking with Robert Mueller’s team for three months—and it can be surmised he’s been turned into a state’s witness, as part of a plea deal, for at least the past three weeks.
We don’t yet know the extent of what Mueller has learned about the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, or where the probe is leading, or how high up it goes. But the revelations of the past year, from news stories and intelligence reports, have suggested that the two main threads involve laundering money and defaming Hillary Clinton for the purpose of boosting Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. Mueller’s first two indictments provide a taste of both—and a scent of the main courses to come.