When we learned on Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was poised to issue the first criminal indictment in the Trump-Russia probe, it was entirely possible that it'd be a relatively low-profile figure facing charges. The president's critics, hoping for a blockbuster revelation, needed to keep their expectations in check.
As it turns out, however, when the former chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign is indicted, it's an extraordinarily big deal.
Former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates have been told to surrender to law enforcement on Monday, a senior U.S. official told NBC News.They are the first people to turn be ordered to surrender in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and Moscow's interference in the election last year.
Rick Gates' name may not be immediately familiar, but his name came up in a recent interview Rachel did with Greg Farrell, investigative reporter for Bloomberg News. Also note, the New York Times published a profile on Gates in June.
As for Manafort, if recent history is any guide, we already know how the president and his team will respond to today's news: Trump World will insist that Manafort was a trivial figure in the president's operation, who worked on the campaign for a very brief time. This is, of course, the line they took over the summer.
But as we discussed at the time, the "Paul who?" argument isn't to be taken seriously. Manafort effectively ran the campaign when Trump secured and accepted the Republican Party's presidential nomination. By their own admission, members of Team Trump touted Manafort for being "in charge" of Trump's political operation, and "leading" the campaign team.
Without the benefit of a time machine, it's a little late to put distance between the president and his former campaign chairman.
What's more, as Rachel noted on the show last week, let's also note for context that Manafort's previous employment before joining Team Trump was working for a pro-Putin political party in Ukraine. Like national security adviser Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort also ended up having to retroactively register as the agent of a foreign power. He too turned out to have had multiple communications during the campaign with Russians even though he publicly denied for months that he had done any such thing.
In March, the Associated Press reported that Manafort had signed up for a multi-million dollar annual contract with a Russian billionaire close to Vladimir Putin. The contract said Manafort would promote the interests of Putin's government around the world. (The Russian billionaire in question sued the AP over the article, though the AP stands by its reporting.)
Manafort was also later revealed to have offered private briefings on the campaign to that same Putin-connected Russian oligarch -- during Manafort's tenure as Trump's campaign chair.