When Paul Manafort was first announced as campaign manager for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign, most Americans asked, “Who?” He wasn’t exactly a household name at the time, but reports started trickling out that painted him in a negative light. It was still during a time before the media started really going after then-candidate Trump, so Manafort wasn’t as heavily targeted as he would have been had his tenure lasted well into the general election season.
But even a cursory investigation into Manafort’s past revealed very startling information. His ties to both the Russians and Ukrainians were evident, as was his penchant for playing political hardball. Perhaps this was what was so appealing about him to candidate Trump who is known as a fighter. But alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear that Manafort was the kind of guy you wanted on your side if you’re trying to circumvent the government, not when you’re trying to become part of it.
None of this seemed to concern candidate Trump. If anything, it made Manafort appealing enough to give him the reins over the campaign for a short period of time. It was during his reign that Manafort was able to do serious damage that is now coming back to haunt the President.
Reports of polling information being given to Russians who had ties to their intelligence agencies may be the smoking gun Robert Mueller has been holding for a while. When he declared last month that Manafort’s plea deal was done because he had told lies while allegedly cooperating with the investigation, many analysts assumed there was something important in Mueller’s pocket. Manafort had already been convicted at that point on separate charges. His cooperation no longer needed to be secured.
If Mueller has evidence the Trump campaign was feeding sensitive information to Russia they could use to help candidate Trump win the election, this is the big C-word – collusion – and it would have been as close to the orbit of candidate Trump as anything we’ve seen so far. Forget meetings with Trump Jr. Forget Michael Flynn’s meetings during transition. If candidate Trump’s campaign manager himself was directly dealing with Russian contacts over sensitive election information, the only thing left for the President to claim is that he was completely left out of the loop by his closest allies.
In the President’s defense, this is actually quite possible. Plausible deniability is in full effect here, and whether Manafort discussed his Russian intentions with candidate Trump or not, it will be very difficult to prove it. Knowing what we know about Manafort, there’s a very good chance he actually did try to cut deals with the Russians without his boss’s knowledge.
While collusion directly between the President and Russian nationals almost certainly didn’t happen, this doesn’t change one glaring observation about the President. He doesn’t pick the “best people” as he often claims. He surrounds himself with people like Manafort, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, and a gaggle of nefarious characters who have all gotten the President in trouble by association. These aren’t good people. The President’s orbit has been littered with the type of swamp creatures he promised to get rid of when elected President.
None of this is likely to impact the President directly. But he desperately needs to put the Mueller investigation behind him before the 2020 election season ramps up. He put his trust in the wrong people and that trust is going to come back and bite him.
It’s ironic that the people who helped him win his first election may be the people who cost him his second election. With the rise of radical leftism in the Democratic Party, now is not the time for vulnerability in the GOP’s 2020 candidates.