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OPED: GOP Role as Russia probe unfolds
Donald Trump has tweeted hundreds of times in the five months since former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was appointed to find out whether the Trump campaign illegally colluded with the Russian government, mostly to suggest Mueller's quest is a preposterous hoax on the American public.
Mueller has maintained complete radio silence throughout the same interval, resisting whatever temptation he may have felt to respond to the president's incessant denigration of the special counsel's motives, methods and integrity.
But the federal indictments unsealed Oct. 30, in which Mueller charged that the former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign and his top deputy illegally concealed $18 million in payments received for lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, will likely prove more significant than the shrill cries of "FAKE NEWS!" that have become the president's Twitter mantra.
They confirm that Mueller intends to conduct his end of the ongoing dialogue in court documents whose veracity ultimately will be determined by jurors and judges. The latter take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and it is under the rules of engagement specified there, not those ordained by the corporate gatekeepers of social media, that legal questions about the Trump campaign's conduct are destined to be resolved.
At first glance, the criminal charges filed against Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates seem tangential to the mystery Mueller has been charged to unravel. As President Trump was quick to point out in yet another flurry of tweets, they concern conduct that mostly took place before Manafort and Gates were engaged to take the reins of the campaign in March 2016. Indeed, the timing of the indictments might have been dictated more by the relevant statute of limitations than by any logical sequence of investigative priorities.
Nor do the affidavits supporting the indictments make any mention of Trump, his campaign or its contacts with Russia.
But any suggestion that the indictments have exhausted Mueller's interest in the roles Manafort and Gates might have played in facilitating such contacts is delusional. The Russian nexus remains the focus of the special counsel's investigation, and the indictments place two of the Trump campaign's most important aides under enormous pressure to cooperate with investigators as that probe continues.
Mueller will be especially interested in whatever light the two defendants can shed on a 2016 meeting Manafort and others close to Trump took with Russian emissaries offering dirt on Trump's presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.
What Republican lawmakers owe their country and constituents now is to assure that the orderly and disciplined investigation Mueller has conducted so far goes forward with a minimum of interference and intimidation from the White House.
It's terrifying, but hardly surprising, that much of the coverage prompted by Monday's indictments centered on speculation that the president would respond by dismissing the special prosecutor or issuing peremptory pardons for both men. Either action would constitute a frontal assault on the rule of law and imperil the presumption of innocence to which both the president and his former subordinates are entitled.
The indictments unsealed Oct. 30 are the first step in a process that deserves every American's fealty. It is what we honor when we salute the flag, what we serve when we register to vote or appear for jury duty, and what we seek to protect when we go to war. If we protect it now, it will reveal soon enough who among today's claimants to the truth has been peddling fake news.
— Brian Dickerson is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. This column was distributed by the Tribune News Service.