Three former aides to President Donald Trump—including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort—have been charged as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. These developments mark a “turning point” in the investigation, according to one Northeastern University’s political scientist. “In many ways, this investigation just got real,” said Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science and an expert on political campaigns at Northeastern University.
Manafort and one of his former business associates, Rick Gates, were indicted and pleaded not guilty to numerous federal charges, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Papadopoulos has pleaded guiltyfor lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, particularly a professor with ties to the Russian government promising information on Hillary Clinton, in the form of thousands of emails. Panagopoulos said this might be the development with the more serious political implications for Trump, noting it suggests a possible “tip of the iceberg” moment with regard to potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
“It strikes me, given all of the details that have transpired today, that there’s a very real possibility that we may be seeing the house of cards starting to collapse,” Panagopoulos said. Daniel Medwed, professor of law at Northeastern and an expert in criminal law, said that while the political context of Mueller’s investigation is unique, the approach of rolling out a the first wave of indictments fits with how prosecutors might proceed in a complex federal investigation. Medwed expects these indictments to lead to further negotiations with and potential cooperation from Manafort and Gates, and the pivotal question is where that will lead.
Medwed elucidated, “I think it’s important not to interpret today’s developments as the end of the investigation, but the first chapter of what will probably be a pretty long book, one thing that is clear is that Mueller and his team are leaving no stone unturned.”