The Russia connection to the 2016 presidential election — specifically President Donald Trump’s victory — is no longer a conspiracy theory.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators dropped a bomb on Washington and, pointedly, the White House.
Mueller and the court documents, especially the guilty plea from former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, wound up revealing a few things, including that Russia was trying to infiltrate the Trump campaign — and it succeeded, at least to an extent.
Papadopoulos was “proactive” in cooperating with the federal government, and given that he was arrested in July at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia — without any leaks — and a plea wasn’t officially announced until October, he may have been helping agents take measures to find out more information, possibly by wearing a wire, NPR reported.
Other Trump campaign officials knew about Papadopoulos’ contacts with Russia, including the president, the attorney general and Sam Clovis, a former co-chairman of the campaign.
As a result of the finding, Clovis withdrew from a possible job in the Trump administration.
Further, Mueller knows more than the public or reporters do and this is likely just the beginning as the circle gets tighter, and it is becoming apparent that Mueller has cooperating witnesses.
Still, Democrats remain concerned that Trump, who has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” may find a way to undermine or even fire Mueller.
“We must respond swiftly unequivocally and in a bipartisan way to any sign of interference,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
In a televised interview, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said lawmakers must make sure that the White House and Trump doesn’t fire Mueller.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said, “If there’s a bipartisan bill to protect him, absolutely I would support that.”
It’s a legitimate concern that the special counsel could be fired, said Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.).
“I would hope that some of the grownups in the administration would realize how bad it would be,” Leahy told NBC News.
On Monday, Oct. 30, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates were forced to surrender to federal authorities after being hit with a 12-count indictment.
“The special counsel has found a reason on criminal violations to indict two individuals and I will leave that up to the special counsel to make that determination,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who is leading his own Senate investigation into any connections Russia may have had to the Trump campaign, told CNN.
“It doesn’t change anything with our investigation,” Burr said. “Two individuals that we’ve gotten documents from. We have, we had interest in them, but clearly the criminal charges put them in the special counsel’s purview.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Trump should let the investigation unfold.
“The president should let the special counsel do his job,” Grassley said.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN, “Papadopoulos is direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by Russians with information they had lots of, so-called ‘dirt,’ emails on Hillary Clinton.”
Asked if it fed the collusion narrative, Warner said there were still “more questions to be answered.”
“We continue to see evidence that Russians were reaching out to Trump officials in a variety of ways, offering discrediting information on Hillary Clinton that included their emails,” Warner said.
Meanwhile, Democrats argued that the indictments showed that Congress needed to continue its own investigations.
“Charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, two integral members of President Trump’s campaign, show that the special counsel is doing his job and the process is working,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said in a statement. “I’ll continue to support Bob Mueller as he follows the facts — his independence must remain sacrosanct.
“I’m also more convinced than ever that both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee must continue their oversight investigations,” Feinstein said. “Congress must get to the bottom of possible obstruction of justice and collusion as well as Russia’s interference with our democratic institutions.”
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that “even with an accelerating Special Counsel investigation inside the Justice Department, and investigations inside the Republican Congress, we still need an outside, fully independent investigation to expose Russia’s meddling in our election and the involvement of Trump officials.”