Get ready for a word problem.
Paul Manafort was Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman. He allegedly had deep, long-lasting, corrupt ties to Russia for which he will likely go to prison if convicted — he’s just been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. According to the indictment, he contracted with the Podesta Group — headed by Tony Podesta, a longtime Democratic lobbyist and brother of former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — to run interference for the Ukrainian government under now-deposed leader Viktor Yanukovych. Podesta stepped down from the group on Monday amid the Manafort allegations.
Meanwhile, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos just pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He admits that he was attempting to connect with foreign sources with connections to the Russian government who promised a better Trump campaign-Russia relationship and stated they had “dirt” on Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” Papadopoulos implicated other members of the campaign. This would be the second piece of evidence that someone in the Trump campaign was warm toward receiving information on Clinton via Russian sources. The first came earlier this year, when we found out that Donald Trump Jr. had openly encouraged a meeting with Russia-connected lawyers promising material on Clinton. Neither reach-out by the Russians apparently materialized into anything serious.
At the same time, we now know that Clinton’s campaign paid Fusion GPS to fund an anti-Trump dossier compiled by one Christopher Steele, a former MI6 spy. Steele gathered information from Russian officials as well. This means that the Clinton campaign wasn’t averse to gathering information from Russia to hurt Trump. And the FBI apparently founded a wiretap of a Trump associate on material in the Steele dossier. We don’t know whether the charges in the Steele dossier were independently confirmed. But former FBI Director James Comey filled Trump in on them in January, while the FBI was interviewing Papadopoulos. And Trump fired Comey in May and then told Russian officials he had done so in order to relieve pressure on himself. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had already recused himself from Russian matters, which forced Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to consider recusing himself and appoint special counsel Robert Mueller, who had worked with Comey at the FBI.
So, here’s the question: Who’s guilty? Not of Russian interference but being terrible at the business of government.
The answer: Everyone.
President Trump was elected on the basis of a promise to “drain the swamp.” But Trump was always part of the swamp. Of course, some of the swamp was of his own making — he has hung out in dicey circles his entire career. But some of it came from the Republican National Committee — Manafort was heavily connected there. And Clinton was part of the swamp for decades, too, which is why Trump’s campaign manager was working with the brother of Clinton’s campaign manager to push a pro-Russian agenda for years.
The American people saw the levels of corruption in Washington, D.C., and they responded by saying they wanted an outsider to clean things up. But things will never be clean so long as D.C. remains a central hoarding house for cash and power. The problem isn’t Trump or Manafort or Podesta. The problem is that Washington, D.C., was never supposed to be this way, and the flies have been drawn to the cesspool. If you want to “drain the swamp,” you have to start with the institutions themselves, not with the people. The problem isn’t having the worst people running the government; it’s having the worst forms of government drawing the worst people.