Russia probe turns up heat on Trump

“Donald Trump can’t tweet his way out of this one,” says Stephen Collinson on CNN. His “tried and tested political defense mechanism” is to create chaos among his enemies and then launch a counter-attack. He also takes cover with his “ultra-loyal political base” and likes to “fog an issue with alternative facts”. But special counsel Robert Mueller has an excellent command of “the Washington game and the mechanics of the law”. He could prove more than a match for the president with his investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russia.

On Monday, Mueller indicted Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, two senior Trump aides in the 2016 presidential campaign, on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. Manafort served as Trump’s campaign manager for five months during the campaign, before resigning over allegations that he had taken $12.7m in off-the-books payments from a Ukrainian politician. While the charges relate to his work before joining Trump’s campaign, he was reportedly the senior official who suggested a junior member of the Trump campaign should be put in touch with Russian officials.

Meanwhile, Gates was allegedly “instrumental in opening offshore accounts that helped Manafort ‘enjoy a lavish lifestyle’”, reports the Financial Times. Mueller also pressed charges against the junior foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who admitted lying to the FBI about the nature of his communications with people connected to the Russian government in providing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s theatrics on social media have included lashing out at Papadopoulos, an adviser Trump praised as “an excellent guy” last year, notes Greg Miller in The Washington Post. Now, apparently, he is “proven to be a liar”. Indeed, “reading the increasingly outlandish theories cooked up by Trump’s defenders and apologists is like entering an alternate, upside-down universe where Hillary Clinton remains Public Enemy No. 1,” says The New York Times.

In the meantime, Mueller didn’t utter a word and his message was clear, say Devlin Barrett, Sari Horwitz and Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.  “He isn’t bluffing, and witnesses are talking.” The court filings have increased pressure on everyone involved in the investigation, not least because they show that Papadopoulos began cooperating with the FBI after a secret arrest three months ago.

For now, however, this affair has had little impact on the entrenched positions on both sides of the political divide. “If you’re… a Democrat, this just confirms your wildest fears that Vladimir Putin is now running the White House,” Republican strategist John Feehery told The New York Times.

“But if you’re a Republican, you don’t see that this advances the narrative at all.” That may change, but in the meantime, we can expect to hear a lot more about Trump’s tax cuts, say Peter Baker and Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times. He says he wants a bill passed by Christmas, “a blindingly quick schedule for such major legislation even without the shadow of scandal”.

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