We’ve reached the Russian arms dealer stage of Donald Trump’s Russia scandal

The week nestled between Christmas and New Years Day is often one of the quietest when it comes to political news. Journalists are on vacation, Congress is in a holding pattern, and the general public is busy enjoying the holidays. But we did receive one crucial tidbit this weekend which could help explain a lot about the nature of the Trump-Russia scandal.

We now know that during the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman wasn’t merely reaching out to his Kremlin overlords to try to use his position to erase the millions of dollars he owed them. According to a lengthy new expose from Time Magazine, Team Kremlin was actively putting pressure on Manafort to make good on his debt. In fact Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska sent a Russian arms dealer named Victor Boyarkin to try to collect from Manafort. Notably, these efforts go back to 2014.

So now we know that at the time Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort to run his 2016 campaign, Manafort wasn’t just a guy who essentially owed millions of dollars to the Kremlin. He was a guy who was being pressured by a Russian arms dealer to find a way to make up for it. This means Manafort didn’t merely catch a lucky break when Trump hired him; Manafort was actively seeking out a way to help the Russians at the time he took the job.

This of course leaves the big question: can it be proven that Donald Trump knew he was hiring an indebted Russian asset to run his campaign? Paul Manafort cut a cooperating plea deal and then famously tried to sabotage it, so he’s presumably been no help in proving that Trump knew. But Manafort’s former longtime sidekick Rick Gates was right in the thick of this, and he’s been thoroughly making good on his plea deal.

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