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Mueller indictments point to Russia connections in Trump’s orbit

Paul Manafort, left, and Rick Gates appear in

Paul Manafort, left, and Rick Gates appear in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The pair were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Credit: AP / Dana Verkouteren

Collusion a ‘hoax’? Not so fast

As the indictment came down on his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s response was basically: Nothing to do with me.

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” the president tweeted.

That wasn’t entirely true. The money-laundering and other charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller against Manafort and his associate Rick Gates — also a campaign official — cover a period from 2006 through this year.

It’s true that the indictments, arising from the defendants’ work for pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, don’t allege any collusion with Russia on the election.

“There is NO COLLUSION!,” Trump tweeted minutes before the next shoe dropped — the surprise guilty plea by a campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, who admitted lying to FBI agents when questioned in January about his contacts with Russians. That it signaled possible collusion is very much a Mueller focus.

See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

Will Trump leave Mueller alone?

Democrats and some Republicans said Trump shouldn’t try to impede or short-circuit Mueller’s investigation, reports Newsday’s Yancey Roy.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way.” If he does, Congress should step in, he added. Trump allies saw a positive — the indictments didn’t specifically mention Trump or collusion.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump has “no intention or plan” to fire Mueller, as some of his partisans have urged.

She was more vague on whether the president might issue pardons to Mueller’s targets — a prospect that could encourage them not to become cooperating witnesses and roll over on others. The White House will let the “process play through,” she said.

The take-away: Where’s Papa?

Manafort’s and Gates’ alleged money-related misdeeds reek of Washington’s undrained swamp, but Papadopolous is the most intriguing of the three Trump campaign alumni in Mueller’s net, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

The FBI arrested him in July for lying about contacts with a Kremlin-connected professor. Court papers revealed Papadopoulos was told the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26, 2016 — well before it became public that Clinton campaign emails had been hacked.

A description of Papadopolous in his Oct. 5 plea agreement as a “proactive” cooperating witness has prompted speculation that he wore a wire when speaking to other possible Mueller targets.

“There’s a large-scale, ongoing investigation, of which this case is a small part,” a prosecutor said at the plea hearing.

‘Flight risks’

Bail was set at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates after a prosecutor said both were flight risks because of their ties abroad and the seriousness of the charges. Both were ordered to home confinement.

Click on the following for more background on the defendants — Manafort, a longtime lobbyist with no qualms about working for foreign dictators; Gates, his right-hand man; and Papadopolous, a self-described energy and policy consultant.

Manafort left the campaign after his Ukraine activity attracted unwanted attention. But Gates remained as a pro-Trump operative — working first for America First Policies, a group backed by the megadonor Mercers, and then for Trump’s close friend Tom Barrack, who frequently brought Gates along on White House visits, according to the Daily Beast.

To see the indictment against Manafort and Gates, click here. For the Papadopolous plea agreement, click here.

Mueller probe claims a Podesta

Lobbyist Tony Podesta — the brother of John Podesta, who chaired the Clinton campaign — has stepped down from the Podesta Group because he is under investigation by Mueller’s office.

The firm worked alongside Manafort promoting a Ukrainian think tank tied to a pro-Russian party, but failed to make timely disclosures of its work. The Podesta brothers co-founded the firm in 1988. John Podesta left it in 1993 and joined Bill Clinton’s White House.

Newsday Poll: LI down on Trump

Trump narrowly won the popular vote on Long Island this past November, but his popularity hasn’t endured.

A Newsday/Siena College poll finds 55 percent of Long Island registered voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, while 39 percent view him favorably. His job performance was graded fair or poor by 66 percent, while 32 percent said he is doing a good or excellent job as president.

He did better among Republicans and those who described themselves as conservatives. See Michael Gormley’s story for Newsday.

Distressed Donald's manic moan-day

The president was described as steamed as he sat upstairs at home watching TV reports of the Mueller charges, showing up late in the Oval Office, according to this vivid description in The Washington Post. 

"The walls are closing in,” the newspaper quoted one connected senior Republican as saying Monday. “Everyone is freaking out.”

By Tuesday morning, the ever-aggrieved leader of the free world returned to Twitter with:

"The Fake News is working overtime. As Paul Manaforts lawyer said, there was "no collusion" and events mentioned took place long before he ... came to the campaign. Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the DEMS!"

It's academic!

The professor who was in touch with Papadopoulos has been widely identified in published reports as Joseph Misfud, who has worked in Malta’s foreign ministry. But news organizations' efforts to reach him seem to have been unavailing so far.

What else is happening

  • Trump is increasingly concerned that the Mueller probe could be moving beyond Russian election meddling to an investigation into his personal dealings, The Associated Press reports.
  • Manafort’s lavish Bridgehampton estate is among the properties he may have to forfeit if convicted, report Newsday’s Rachelle Blidner and Ngo. Prosecutors say his alleged crimes supported a luxury lifestyle, including about $1.4 million for clothes, antique rugs and art, plus three Range Rovers.
  • A federal court issued a temporary injunction blocking the Pentagon from enforcing Trump’s ban on transgender troops.
  • Papadopoulos conveyed the Trump campaign's promise of improved relations with Russia in an interview last September with the Russian Interfax News Agency.
  • Jerome Powell, a member of the Federal Reserve’s board, is Trump’s leading candidate to replace Janet Yellen as the head of the nation’s central bank, several reports said.
  • The military judge who will sentence Bowe Bergdahl for desertion in Afghanistan said Trump’s campaign remarks suggesting the Army sergeant is a “dirty, rotten traitor” may result in a lesser punishment.
  • FBI Director James Comey, who ran the Russia investigation until Trump fired him, reacted to news of the indictments with a tweeted quote from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
  • Trump’s national job approval in a Gallup daily tracking poll hit a new low — 33 percent — with 62 percent disapproval.

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