What do the indictments mean for Trump? Former White House ethics chief explains
Published Monday, October 30, 2017 10:20PM EDT
On Monday, Donald Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were indicted on a dozen charges in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Meanwhile, a little-known Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.
CTV’s Chief Anchor Lisa LaFlamme spoke with Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics counsel to George W. Bush, about what the charges could mean for Trump.
Of the three named today, who is Donald Trump most concerned about?
Well he ought to be most concerned about George Papadopolous, his former campaign aide who has (pleaded) guilty, who is co-operating with the government and is talking presumably about collaboration with the Russians. So that's the person I'd be most concerned about.
Interesting, since Papadopolous is a 30-year-old volunteer who has nowhere near the profile of Manafort or Gates. Does any of this touch on Trump’s own actions?
I don't know what he knows, but this is a 30-year-old volunteer who was apparently sitting in a room with candidate Trump and they have a picture that they've been broadcasting on television down here of him sitting in a room with then-candidate Donald Trump with very high-ranking people in the room. So we'll find out what this man knows. But he was collaborating with the Russians, with a Russian agent called the professor, and we're going to have to find out what that was all about. And I think Bob Mueller is going to find out because this man is co-operating with the government.
So the big question: Did Trump’s presidential campaign collude at any level with Russian operatives to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election?
It's obvious they colluded with the Russians. We know that from the Trump Tower meeting. We know that from today's guilty plea. They clearly colluded with the Russians. The legal question is whether the collusion with the Russians was illegal, whether they violated campaign finance laws or whether they were trafficking in stolen emails in violation of hacking laws, and that has yet to be determined.
So Trump’s reaction today, a series of tweets, (was) not surprising. But was it smart? And does his reaction even matter today?
Well, when I was chief ethics lawyer at the Bush White House, we made it very clear that our policy was not to comment on pending investigations. The President of the United States also did not comment on pending investigations. Every one of President Trump's tweets on this Russia investigation has hurt him a lot, either legally in helping build a case against him for obstruction of justice or politically with the American people who don't want to hear any more about Hillary Clinton. They want to hear what Donald Trump is going to do as President to rejuvenate our economy and to conduct foreign policy and protect us from threats from abroad, which is North Korea. They don't want to hear more nonsense about Hillary Clinton's uranium deal that Congress has had years to look at from a long time ago.
So if you were working in this administration, what signal did all the insiders, did all the staff receiving today?
I don't think they got the right message. They should not be commenting on this investigation at all. They shouldn't be talking about the Russia investigation. They shouldn't be talking about Hillary Clinton. That election was a year ago. They need to focus on doing their jobs and they are making it that much easier to prosecute the White House staff and perhaps even the President for obstruction of justice every time they turn around make a comment about this investigation.
So what then is the next phase of this investigation?
That's for Robert Mueller to determine, who is he going to indict next, who is he going to persuade to co-operate. Michael Flynn is somebody I would keep an eye on. We don't know what's going on with him, whether he is cooperating, whether he's worked a plea deal or whether he’s going to … be prosecuted. But he is somebody I would keep an eye on for sure.
How nervous is Trump now that these first charges have been laid?
Well, I think he'd be quite nervous about it. But he would have been so much better off if he had just let it alone, not talked about the Russia investigation, not fired James Comey from the FBI and just did his job as president. Because then in order to remove him from office it would have had to have been established that he had known about and condoned criminal conduct by his campaign and that might have been very, very hard to show. But the number of people that lied about dealings with the Russians and then also the obstruction of justice scenario where the president himself fired the FBI director in order to derail this investigation, those are the developments that are really going to hurt President Trump, probably much more so than the underlying collaboration with the Russians.