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Ever since the Department of Justice appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to look into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, President Donald Trump has downplayed the investigation in the best way he knows how: calling it names on Twitter, like “fake news” and “witch hunt.”
But during the 41st week of his time in the White House, the president couldn’t ignore the serious turn the investigation took. Two of Trump’s former campaign aides were criminally charged in relation to their decade-long ties to a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party — and allegedly laundered money and evaded taxes to hide it.
Mueller even signed the indictment personally.
The indictments are coming Day 280 — October 27
CNN got the scoop that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election had handed down its first charges, and the defendants (later revealed to be Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime pal Rick Gates) would be taken into custody on Monday.
Meanwhile, Trump asserted it’s now “commonly agreed” that his campaign didn’t collude with the Kremlin, though he predictably cited no evidence to back up his grand claims. Trump even went on to accuse Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia when her agency was one of nine to approve the U.S. sale of uranium mines to a Moscow-backed company in 2010. Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia interfered with the U.S. election to help Trump.
Trump thanks… Jimmy Carter… Day 281 — October 28
While waiting for the indictments to drop, Trump found an unlikely defender in former President Jimmy Carter, who told the New York Times that “the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about.” Trump thanked Carter, then insulted “Fake News.”
Nothing to see, move along Day 280 — October 27
President Trump had a Twitter meltdown that his lawyer said was definitely not about the impending charges against Manafort.
“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more,” Trump wrote. “Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist.”
“Conspiracy against the United States” Day 283 — October 30
After the impending indictment became public, Manafort and Gates surrendered to the FBI. They’re being charged with conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to tell the U.S. government they’d been lobbying for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party for more than a decade. As it turns out, Manafort wasn’t even good at laundering money.
While the indictment (which you can read here) doesn’t name Trump directly, the level of detail shows that Mueller means business. Both men pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and they’ll likely remain under house arrest, without their passports. Ukraine’s prime minister later said the government would fully cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, although the country hasn’t turned over any information yet.
News also surfaced that another Trump associate, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the months before the election. Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, was arrested in July, and the time before his Oct. 5 plea could signal that he was dishing on other targets of the investigation.
The following day, Trump brushed off the two massive revelations as nothing important. He said Manafort acted as a foreign agent “long before” he worked for the campaign. (Manafort was a foreign agent for Ukraine until 2016, according to the indictment.) The president then dismissed Papadopoulos as a “low-level volunteer,” although he’d previously deemed him “an excellent guy.” Trump went on to point the finger at Democrats, for some reason.
Russian RTs Day 286 — November 2
Trump’s nominee to be the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, Sam Clovis, withdrew under the heat of the Russia probe. Clovis came under scrutiny specifically for his relationship with and comments to Papadopoulos.
In other disturbing news, we learned Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn retweeted Kremlin Twitter trolls in the days leading up to the election, though it’s not clear if that was intentional or if he was just blissfully unaware.
Delete your account Day 287 — November 3
Trump gloated over the power of his social media presence after a Twitter employee on his way out briefly deleted the president’s personal account.
“My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee,” Trump tweeted from his reinstated account. “I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.”
Trump found new ammunition against Hillary Clinton in the form of Donna Brazile’s damning book excerpt, which said his former opponent secretly took over the DNC long before she secured the party’s nomination. Trump called for the Justice Department and FBI to look into “Crooked Hillary and the Dems” for “stealing” the primary from “Crazy Bernie.”
“Pocahontas [Sen. Elizabeth Warren] just stated that the Democrats, lead by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the Primaries!” Trump tweeted in the first week of National Native American Heritage Month. “Let’s go FBI & Justice Dept.”
In fact, Trump is “very frustrated” he can’t go after Democrats himself. “You know the saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing,” Trump told D.C. radio talk show host Larry O’Connor.
And to bring things full circle, it looks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have lied to Congress about Russia. Sessions repeatedly said he was unaware of any Trump campaign officials having contact with Russia. Court documents, unsealed this week as part of charges brought by Mueller, suggest at least two campaign officials informed Sessions of contacts with Moscow during the race.