When the blockbuster indictments of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates came down a couple weeks ago, one of the deflections from the White House was that these were campaign aides, not people who were in the administration, and that the crimes they were indicted for occurred prior to their involvement on the campaign. This week, we've got two high-level White House staffers incriminated. This is the direction this thing is going. We start the president's namesake for this week's power rankings...
1. Donald Trump Jr.
Finally, the son eclipses the father. For this week anyway. The Atlantic’s article last night exposing Trump Jr.’s contacts with Wikileaks creates yet another piece of damning circumstantial evidence that the Trump campaign colluded illegally, this time with an entity that has actively worked against the United States on several occasions. To be fair, there are more concrete dots to be connected before illegal activity can be proven, but it’s important to keep in mind that the amount of inculpatory evidence regarding the Trump campaign in Russia dwarfs at this point the amount of exculpatory evidence. Trump Jr. released what he says was the entire correspondence between himself and the Wikileaks Twitter account following the article’s publication, in an attempt to demonstrate its benignity. But considering the U.S. intelligence community regards Wikileaks as a “hostile intelligence service,” maybe, if one wanted to put oneself above suspicion, it would have been a better idea never to have exchanged messages in the first place.
2. Hope Hicks
Last week we welcomed her to the party. This week, the White House communications director is looking like a much more significant player in the Russia affair. All of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page emailed Hicks about Russia over the course of the campaign. Since Trump himself doesn’t use email, Hicks was his campaign pipeline to info sent by other top campaign officials. Case in point: Within 15 minutes of Wikileaks contacting Jr. about their possession of the John Podesta emails, Trump the elder had tweeted about them—a coincidence that, to put it mildly, strains credulity. As Russia investigation obsessive and increasingly prophetic attorney/journalist Seth Abramson puts it, the campaign seems to have used Hicks as an “email launderer—she shows emails to Trump he can later claim he never saw.” Robert Mueller scheduled a conversation with Hicks on Halloween. On the plus side, she does appear to be on her way to fashion icon status.
3. George Papadopoulos
You get the sense that George’s cooperation with the Russia investigation has something to do with the accelerated pace the investigation seems to have taken on since the first indictments were handed down. This weekend we got news that Papadopoulos, who Trump has dismissed as a low-level volunteer who got coffee, had actually spoken directly to Trump over the phone at least twice, once to interview him prior to his placement on the campaign’s national security team, and once, after the election, to offer Papadopoulos a “blank check” for any job he wanted in the incoming administration. As someone who’s worked at various levels on political campaigns, I can personally assure you that there are no low-level volunteers or coffee-runners getting one-on-one time with the candidate or being put on their national security team.
4. Stephen Miller
The revelation that Miller, currently a senior advisor to Trump, was communicating with Papadopoulos regularly on Russia puts the investigation beyond the campaign and into the White House.
5. Donald Trump
Welcome back to the list, Mr. President. Trump’s falling all over himself to quash this investigation without having to directly fire Miller, demanding tax-dollar-funded Justice Department investigations into an already-debunked Clinton Foundation scandal—one that would theoretically conflict Mueller out of the Russia investigation. His claims not to have had anything to do with Wikileaks during the campaign have lost all credibility, as have his claims about Papadopoulos’s role on the campaign. Mueller’s interviewing of Hicks and Miller puts the investigation a single degree of separation from Trump himself, that we know of. Keep in mind there seems to be about a month-long lag between where the investigation is and what we civilians know about it.
6. Michael Flynn
Number-one candidate for next to be indicted, if he’s not already a cooperating witness.
7. Jared Kushner
Kushner is the one figure in the campaign who seems to pop up in every single aspect of the Russia collusion allegations. He may be a primary target and is the current second most likely candidate for next to be indicted.
8. Paul Manafort and 9. Richard Gates
On ice, at home, awaiting trial. For the next six-plus months. That clock ticks slowly when you can’t leave your house.
10. Roy Moore
The Senate hopeful’s pedophilia scandal doesn’t hurt Trump much directly, but with Congress busy triangulating its position on Moore, the scandal sure isn’t getting tax reform passed any quicker.
Bonus: Jeff Sessions
Sessions heads to the Hill today to testify about his contacts with Russia during the campaign. His story has changed each and every time he’s testified, and there are rumors Trump will dump him as attorney general to clear the recused Alabaman to make way for an AG that can fire Mueller. The plan would involve an attempt to install Sessions back into the Senate seat he vacated to take the position, in the wake of the Moore disaster.