What we don’t yet know about the probe into Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia
Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was charged Monday with various offences relating to money laundering and failing to inform the authorities of foreign money. These related to his work with a pro-Russia Ukrainian leader, Viktor Yanukovych, well before the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
He was charged alongside his business associate Rick Gates. Both pleaded not guilty.
It was also revealed that another Trump advisor, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about meetings with Russian intermediaries.
The developments, however, raise nearly as many questions as they answer. Here’s a look at just a few of the things we still don’t know.
Is there evidence that actually points to Trump being involved with Russia?
“Not at this point,” said Don Abelson, chair of the University of Western Ontario’s political science department. “At this point, I don’t think there are direct ties to the Trump campaign in terms of collusion with the Russians,” he said, and it would be “premature” to reach that conclusion.
“I think really the smoking gun is going to be, did Trump during the campaign or transition period, engage in any formal discussions with Russians indicating that in exchange for A, he’d be prepared to provide B?”
“In other words, would he be prepared to remove or lessen sanctions in exchange for, during the campaign, dirt on Hillary Clinton or other things that would propel him into office?”
That’s what Abelson will be looking for, and what would have real consequences for Trump’s presidency, but there’s no such evidence yet, he said.
Who was Papadopoulos’s Russian academic contact?
A professor with ties to the Russian government told Papadopoulos that he had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, according to court documents. But the documents don’t name the professor, though they say he was based in London.
“I think it would be interesting to find out who really this was, what the ties of this academic were with the Russians,” said Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto.
A handful of news organizations are reporting that the professor is Joseph Mifsud, who is on the staff of Scotland’s Stirling University and told the Telegraph that he was the one named in the documents, though no one knows for sure.
Are the Democrats or the previous administration culpable in some way?
Braun takes it as a given that Russia was trying to interfere in the U.S. election. “Everyone has known for decades that Russia has tried to intervene, has tried to influence elections, has tried to influence politicians throughout Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere.”
“The question is, were they effective? Were there countermeasures? What did the various administrations do about it?”
To him, if the Obama administration knew that Russia was likely to interfere, then they should have taken steps to prevent it. “There are the sins of commission and the sins of omission,” he said. “What they are looking for at the moment are the sins of commission.”
Braun also finds it interesting that the Podesta Group may have been involved, as the lobbying firm has ties to the Clinton campaign. “There is also the possibility that there could be some blowback against the Democrats.”
Would Trump fire Mueller?
Trump has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and pardon all those who face charges.
But according to a Trump attorney, the president isn’t planning on doing either.
“You can just imagine the political fallout if that happened,” said Abelson.
What happens next?
Braun isn’t sure whether the inquiry will end up being a Watergate, with a president resigning, or an Iran Contra scandal, with a president surviving.
Both he and Abelson believe there will likely be more indictments over the next few weeks. “If in the next weeks there are no indictments, then there will be questions to ask about whether this may have been a bluff. Was it an attempt to shake the tree and see what rotten fruits fall off?” said Braun.
“It will be very very interesting to see what happens with people like Manafort,” said Abelson. “If he has a choice between revealing sensitive information or facing the prospect of being in jail for the rest of his life, I hate to say it, but most people are going to turn. And you can just imagine what he knows and what conversations took place and what kind of documentation might exist.”
It might only take a few people to provide the right information that could lead to prosecution, he said.
“Anything is possible and it’s going to make very interesting drama for the next several weeks and months.”
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