It’s a turbulent world. Sexual assault allegations are shaking down megastars in the wake of a storm of Harvey Weinstein allegations. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is now speaking as a Confederate-sympathizing Civil War historian (who knew?). Saturday Night Live thought it could disappear for two weeks and placate me with David S. Pumpkins.
Be that as it may, I’m still frolicking across campus like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music at the thought of the most recent Washingtonian developments. That’s right — the Hill is alive with the sound of natural consequences. Mueller and his associates have finally indicted three key members of President Donald Trump’s corrupt, colluding administration — one already having pleaded guilty — and he’s coming for more. So, as the Republicans would prefer it to be said, Merry Christmas.
In all honesty, though, the only relieving part about the indictments is the intimation that our democratic foundations might actually be preserved by the rule of law. Otherwise, we are only still waiting, and watching. In brief: Mueller brought charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort (how shocking), his business partner Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser to the campaign, George Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying about attempts to broker meetings between campaign personnel and Russian officials. He wasn’t indicted in the same sense as Mueller and Gates. Rather, he confessed under seal in accordance with an agreement with prosecutors. His charges related very directly to his multiple Russian contacts, and his information most likely has the potential to incriminate bigger fish.
The charges against Manafort are probably pursuant to the same goal. To be clear, Mueller’s charges don’t pertain to alleged crimes committed during Manafort’s Trump administration tenure, but just before: Acting as an agent of Ukrainian government and officials, earning tens of millions of dollars doing so, laundering that money through corporate bodies, and lying to the FBI about it.
It’s not uncommon for these sorts of investigations to bring up unrelated charges to persuade potential witnesses to cooperate. Whether Mueller or Gates will do so certainly falls into the “waiting and watching” category, but one thing’s for sure: These indictments demonstrate to potential witnesses that Mueller is willing to play the long game, and they will lead to more. We can only hope that they will implicate the man standing at the helm, and pay that his island of Misfit Nativists have not, in their efforts to erode the fabric of our democracy, actually been able to orchestrate plausible deniability for him.
We are getting closer and closer to a day when we won’t have to suffer hordes of blind reactionary groaning at the statement we all know to be true — it looks like Trump colluded with a foreign government to win an election. Call it a witch hunt if you want. Donald Trump Jr. released emails proving he sought to meet with Russian operatives himself, on his own Twitter feed. Numerous independent security firms have published reports calling for reevaluations of electronic voting machines in Wisconsin and Michigan, machines whose owners — private companies like Diebold, with financial ties to the Republican National Committee — refuse to cooperate with investigation.
Manafort, a key Trump adviser, had numerous ties to Russian state operatives, and wasn’t the only one. Campaign personnel Carter Paige and Roger Stone have been implicated; Gen. Michael Flynn resigned to distract from his dealings with Kislyak, who also met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions then lied about it under oath. Guccifer 2.0, who captivated news cycles for a constant barrage of hacks against the DNC, claimed to be a Romanian independent operative — and yet couldn’t speak colloquial Romanian to an independent Romanian-American tech reporter. He operated on Russian language-based servers almost exclusively during Moscow time. Cry “conspiracy,” these are the facts. Come to your own conclusions.
I don’t bring all this up only to engage in an early “gotcha.” After all, Mueller’s work is really only beginning. These are his team’s first actions but it is almost certain he does not intend them to be the last. It is to remind voters on this campus that each day, we live under one of the worst American presidents in history who does not lead with the popular mandate and may not even be leading with a legitimate electoral one.
Republican, Democrat, Green Party, whatever — independent elections are the foundation of this democracy. Without them, the country our founding fathers dreamed of so long ago ceases to exist. We are not a collection of people who only care when the news is on, and forget the next moment. Pay attention to Mueller, and don’t forget what’s going on. Perhaps one day, young people will be asking us later, when the scandal and arrests and convictions and pardons and chaos are all over, what it was like.
Maybe some of us will be shelving those gauche MAGA hats like a Nixon/Agnew button. In the meantime, I watch Trump spiral out on Twitter, GOP veterans evade the question and traditional conservatives shake their heads at them both. Winter descends on USC, and I sip my hot tea.
Tread on them, Mueller.
Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.