Mueller Files Charges Against Manafort and Gates

[Video Description: Paul Manafort surrendering to the FBI this morning.]

Following the announcement late Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had made sealed indictments in his collusion probe, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his longtime deputy Rick Gates were charged and told to surrender themselves this morning.

Manafort and Gates each face 12 charges, including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to commit tax fraud. [ETA. The charges may be regarding money laundering rather than or in addition to tax fraud.]

So, a couple of preliminary thoughts:

1. As you may recall, one of my biggest fears about this investigation has been that Manafort would be the fall guy, and that would be as close as Mueller would ever get to Trump, so I'm having A LOT OF FEELINGS about the fact that he started with Manafort. Good feelings and dread feelings!

2. The fact that Mueller has brought a number of charges, higher than I anticipated, is something I'm tentatively taking as a good sign. Which means that my primary anxiety at the moment is how Trump will react. (I'll come back to that.)

3. That Mueller started with Manafort and Gates — the latter of whom still has ongoing ties to the White House — and leaked charges regarding both collusion and tax fraud, is interesting. Those charges, perhaps especially tax fraud, are the most likely to send a shiver up Trump's spine.

4. Mueller really had to find a balance between: 1. Reassuring the public something is happening and the investigation is meaningful; 2. Scaring the pants off the big fish; 3. Not scaring them so much that Trump feels backed into a corner and does something incredibly harmful. That is quite the needle to have to thread. But he's gotta thread it. We won't know how successful he's been for a bit yet. The indictments are just the first part of his opening gambit.

5. It's making me very nervous that this is nearly coinciding precisely with the one year mark that experts on authoritarian regimes warned us we'd have to prevent a full-scale takeover. The pressure of these indictment could tip Trump right at the point experts anticipate he was likely to tip anyway.

I want to emphasize that: My hope right now is that we get through this safely.

It's not just the possibility that Trump could start a fucking war to distract from this news — which is entirely, frighteningly possible — but the fact that he could go full authoritarian. He could fire Mueller, and, if he does, who's going to stop him? That's not rhetorical. I really don't know.

The GOP has lined up behind him fully. That Jeff Flake was still saying on his way out the door there's no reason to remove Trump is not good. That Trump reportedly asked for Dana Boente's resignation, so he could replace him, thus creating space for Trump replace Mueller's replacement if he fired him is not good. That Chuck Grassley is still suggesting Hillary Clinton needs to be investigated is not good.

What's happened this morning could be the start of much-needed accountability for a bunch of disloyal scoundrels who have attempted a coup. Or it could be the start of a war.

That we don't know yet is reason to greet all of this news with seriousness. Clink a glass, if you like, but then get back to the grave business of resisting whatever Trump and his party will do in response.

Even internet trolls thrash hardest when we draw a boundary with them. I don't expect the trolls in the White House to be any different.

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