Mueller just threw a huge wrench in Trump's attempts to distance himself from Manafort

  • Indictments released Monday in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe did not mention President Donald Trump or his campaign, allowing Trump to distance himself from the charges.
  • But this is likely just the tip of the iceberg, and the indictments make clear that Mueller is willing to look into relevant dealings that precede the campaign.



The special counsel's office unsealed court filings on Monday that demonstrated extensive contact between an early adviser on President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia-linked foreign nationals during the election, raising the stakes for the White House amid Trump's former campaign chairman's indictment for financial crimes.

Legal experts say the decision to unseal the court filings related to the Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, hours after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates turned themselves in to the FBI may have been strategic.

"It was revealed at this time, I think, to blunt criticism of the Manafort/Gates indictment for being only tangentially related to Russia (i.e., the money came from the Russian puppet Ukrainians)," said Patrick Cotter, a former assistant US attorney who has worked closely with Mueller in the past and now practices at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C.

13 PHOTOS
Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
See Gallery
Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort speaks at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort (C) and daughter Ivanka (R) look on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, smiles as he talks with other Trump campaign staff after Trump spoke to supporters following the results of the Indiana state primary, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's senior campaign adviser Paul Manafort (L) walks into a reception with former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, at the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort listens to Ivanka Trump speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 20: A man with a security credential takes a selfie at the podium as Donald Trump, flanked by campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 19: Paul Manafort, advisor to Donald Trump, is seen on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Paul Manafort., Convention Manager, Trump Campaign, appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday April 10, 2016. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NA.R.DoleMicCk1.081596.RG.Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole looks up from podium at balloons and television cameras as convention center manager Paul Manafort, at right, points out preparations for tonight's acceptance speech in San Diego, 08/15/96. (Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater, young Republicans political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo by Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Manafort and Gates indictment, unsealed Monday morning, contained 12 counts related mostly to financial crimes like money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent. The filing did not mention Trump or the campaign, which allowed Trump to distance himself from Manafort in a tweet on Monday morning.

"Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign," Trump tweeted on Monday morning. "But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"

The fact that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to federal agents about his contact with Russia-linked foreign nationals, however, "is equally, if not more, important" than the Manafort and Gates indictments, Cotter said.

"With Papadopoulos, the prosecutors are saying: 'Yes, we are making progress on the Russia connection to the Trump campaign and this witness will lead us to other evidence and witnesses. More to come on Russia,'" Cotter said. "It also serves as a warning to people who dealt with Papadopoulos that if they lie about those contacts, the government is in a position to indict them for false statement, obstruction or perjury."

As The New Yorker's Ben Wallace-Wells pointed out, "at every point, crucially, Papadopoulos loops in his superiors—immediate ones, distant ones, and at one point even the candidate himself."

11 PHOTOS
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
See Gallery
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The fact that Papadopoulos was apprising his superiors of all of his Russia-related correspondences will make it extremely difficult for the Trump campaign to distance itself from his efforts to set up a meeting with high-level Russian officials. 

Papadopoulos told a high-ranking campaign official, likely Manafort, in May that "Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss."

The special counsel's filing indicates that the official forwarded Papadopoulos' email to another campaign official and wrote: "Let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

William Yeomans, a former deputy assistant attorney general who spent 26 years at the Justice Department, agreed that the Papadopoulos guilty plea seemed "very significant."

"As I understand it, he lied about his contact — while he was with the campaign — with a professor with ties to the Russian government," Yeomans said on Monday. "That brings campaign collusion into play. It's early. There will undoubtedly be more to come."

The Papadopoulos filings revealed for the first time that someone on the Trump campaign was offered "dirt" on Hillary Clinton from Russia-linked foreign nationals as early as April 2016. The offering on Clinton to Papadopoulos, in this case, was in the form of "thousands of emails," disclosed to the young foreign policy adviser by a person identified as an "overseas professor."

14 PHOTOS
Trump allies lash out at media after news of Mueller's Russia probe charges
See Gallery
Trump allies lash out at media after news of Mueller's Russia probe charges
.@donlemon stop lying about about the Clinton's and Uranium you ignorant lying covksucker !!!! You fake news you dumb piece of shit.
.@donlemon must be confronted, humiliated, mocked and punished. Dumber than dog shit.
.@donlemon you come across on tv as a dull witted arrogant partyboi. You lie constantly and no one who knows you thinks you r bright
.@donlemon you come across on tv as a dull witted arrogant partyboi. You lie constantly and no one who knows you thinks you r bright
No .@CharlesBlow YOU Lie- u have no cried you fast talking arrogant fake news piece of shit !
Bill Kristol packing on the pounds #porky #Warmonger https://t.co/kJr8e3Q07C
When AT&T aquires Time Warner the house cleaning at CNN of human excrement like @donlemon @jaketapper & dumbfuck @ananavarro will be swift
If Carl Bernstein says something the overwhelming odds are that it's false lied about Watergate lying lying now https://t.co/8VxXaAG4pC
If this man's team executes warrants this weekend he should stripped of his authority by @realDonaldTrump. Then H… https://t.co/Jtpok6zNIM
Guess;Mueller and Media working hand in hand. Media to be tipped off. Mueller was FBI Director Who knew of Russian crimes before Uranium one
Left needs a dramatic change in the narrative!! Uranium One, Fusion GPS dossier, all out this week. This is a distraction! TICK TOCK....
When will @HillaryClinton be indicted?
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The document suggests Papadopoulos had known that Russia was actively trying to undermine Clinton before virtually anyone else. News that the Democratic National Committee had been breached by Russia-linked hackers in late 2015 did not break until June 14, 2016.

On October 5, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents. He now appears to be a cooperating witness in Mueller's investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"The fact that his arrest was concealed for over three months also reminds us that we don’t know who else might also be cooperating with the investigation," Yeomans said.

He noted too that while the Manafort and Gates indictments don't implicate Trump directly they show that Mueller is "willing to examine financial dealings that occurred before the campaign and bring charges that are not directly related to collusion."

"That means that Trump's financial and business dealings are fair game," Yeomans said, "including possible money laundering — a chilling message to him."

NOW WATCH: A North Korean defector trekked 6,000 miles on crutches to flee — now he helps others escape

See Also:

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.