Despite Donald Trump Rebuttals, Legal Experts Say Robert Mueller Has His Eyes Set On The Big Scalp

Donald Trump has not at all taken well the first indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to undermine his opposition during the 2016 presidential election. Trump has attempted to deflect the attention to Hillary Clinton in the wake of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort's arrest, as well as his former national security adviser George Papadopoulos' incriminating confession that senior campaign officials within the Trump team were regularly briefed about his line of communication with a Russian operative promising "dirt" on Clinton.

Former Trump aides and surrogates, including Chris Christie, Sean Hannity, and Corey Lewandowski, conjectured on various media networks Monday whether Manafort's arrest and Papadopoulos' guilty plea spelled doom for the Trump presidency. Like Trump, who claimed that Manafort was arrested on charges of money laundering much before he was recruited to head his campaign, Trump's surrogates maintained that no Russia collusion has been proven in the 31-page affidavit filed in the federal court by Robert Mueller's team. And while it is true that former FBI director Mueller has not established any clear link between Trump and Russia as of now, legal experts said the trajectory of the events point out that is precisely what he is after.

Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, told The Atlantic that while Manafort's indictment might be a significant development, it is Papadopoulos' plea deal which could mark the beginning of the end of Donald Trump's presidency.
"Manafort might be a bigger fish, but Papadopoulos is a bigger story. To me, this is the kind of plea deal that puts the c-word—collusion—back on the table.

"I've thought all along that the real question after the Manafort indictment [would be] whether this was the beginning of the story or the end. The Papadopoulos news sure makes it seem like it's the beginning."

Papadopoulos, a former member of Trump's national security team, admitted to agents of having established a line of communication with an unnamed "professor" in London, who in turn got him in touch with a Russian woman operative claiming to have close ties to the Kremlin and promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of over 30,000 of her emails, according to The Guardian. Papadopoulos duly relayed the information back to senior officials of the Trump campaign, who applauded him for the effort and even went so far as to plan a meeting with Kremlin officials without trying to make it appear suspicious. That meeting never took place, but the fact that Papadopoulos and even Manafort can shed more light on purported collusion in exchange for immunity could have Donald Trump shaking in his boots.
Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the Watergate special prosecutor task force, agrees with this assessment. According to Ben-Veniste, Mueller's arrest of Manafort suggests that he intends to lure him into a plea deal in exchange for more information about bigger scalps, possibly Donald Trump.
"I would say this is High-Level Special Counsel Investigation 101. Mueller is operating by the book.

"[Manafort's arrest] may act as a vehicle to exert significant pressure on them to provide information in connection with other possible violations of law involving other persons."

It is a viewpoint which was reinforced by Papadopoulos' October 5 plea agreement hearing, records of which were unsealed Monday, as reported by CNN. According to the records, Aaron Zelinsky of the special counsel's office made it clear during the hearing that Robert Mueller and his team have bigger fish to fry.
"The criminal justice interest being vindicated here is there's a large-scale ongoing investigation of which this case is a small part... Although the government is moving expeditiously to interview individuals of immediate interest to the investigation, news that the defendant has been charged with and pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents may make those individuals reluctant to speak with investigators..

"Revealing the defendant's plea would likely chill individuals to be interviewed in the coming weeks."

It appears more and more likely that Robert Mueller's arrest of Manafort and Papadopoulos' guilty plea could be the start of a downward spiral for Trump's presidency, according to legal experts. They are only means for reaching an end, not the end itself.

And if that is the case, President Donald Trump's days could be numbered.

[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]