Asia gives Trump a chance to refocus
With the White House feeling pressure from a probe into possible Russia links with his election campaign, the US leader should seek to meet high regional hopes
The charges facing President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort are very serious. Money laundering on its own could lead to 20 years in jail, not to mention other charges including tax fraud. Both Manafort and associate Rick Gates were named in an indictment obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller, appointed to investigate connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, including possible collusion to swing the presidential election. Both men have pleaded not guilty. Grave though the alleged crimes may be, they do not on their own suggest any immediate link with possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia to undermine American democracy and any cover-up.
However, a later turn of events has given White House watchers food for troubling thought. Newly unsealed court documents reveal that another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with a professor who had ties to Russian government officials, the most direct evidence yet connecting the campaign to Russian efforts to help Trump. The professor is said to have claimed Moscow had dirt on Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. After being arrested in July, Papadopoulos began cooperating with Mueller. This suggests he has been testifying against others and prompts speculation that one purpose of indicting Manafort and Gates is to persuade them also to testify against others in exchange for leniency.
Meanwhile the investigation adds to pressure, uncertainty and distraction for the White House, days before a trade and security summit in Beijing. There is speculation Trump may pardon Manafort, and demands by some supporters he sack Mueller. Either would risk unpredictable consequences for his presidency. Some observers do not rule out the frightening temptation to rally support by escalating the North Korean crisis. Trump’s imminent swing through Asia, including talks with President Xi Jinping, is a chance to refocus his presidency.
If ever there was a time for the president and his aides to keep cool heads and uphold America’s rule of law, it is now.