Monday was an almost incalculably bad day for Paul Manafort, who was confirmed to have been under secret wiretap before and after the election, and is about to be indicted. But Tuesday has turned out to be an arguably even worse day for Manafort, based on what’s subsequently been revealed about that wiretap. It’s also just about the worst news possible for Donald Trump.
The latest revelation comes by way of CBS News, which is now confirming that Paul Manafort discussed the Donald Trump campaign with the Russians during the election (link). It’s still not being reported what Manafort and Russia specifically said to each other. But this amounts to collusion one way or the other. As has been pointed out by various legal experts, “collusion” is not a legal term; it simply means two parties are working together for nefarious purposes. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller already has the tapes of the Manafort-Russia conversations, so he knows precisely what was said. He also presumably knows what Manafort subsequently said to Trump about those conversations.
That’s where the problem comes in for Donald Trump. His own campaign chairman has now been caught colluding with the Russians about the election, on behalf of the campaign, during the election. On some level the burden will now fall on Trump to demonstrate that he somehow didn’t know his own campaign chair was taking these actions. If it turns out Trump did know, he’s on the hook legally for whatever it is that Manafort and Russia were specifically plotting.
There is also the matter of the court of public opinion. If Donald Trump can’t convince the general public that he didn’t know Paul Manafort was colluding with the Russians on behalf of the campaign, he’ll be presumed guilty by the American people. In the end, the damage to his approval rating may determine the swiftness of his ouster.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report