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Op-Ed Columnist: The Russia Scandal: Your Guide

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Some senior campaign officials were clearly willing to talk with the Russians. The documents released yesterday suggest as much. So does Donald Trump Jr.’s previously reported meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Clinton.

For now, these conversations seem to be separate from the charges filed against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates. Manafort and Gates were charged with secretly working as agents of a foreign (Russian-backed) government for years, hiding their income from that work and lying about it to federal investigators.

It’s certainly possible that Manafort also colluded with Russia during the presidential campaign. It’s also possible that prosecutors are using the other alleged illegal activity as leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the campaign investigations.

What we don’t know:

Did Trump campaign officials collude with Russian agents on the release of the emails? There is not yet any public evidence that the conversations between campaign officials and Russian agents led to actual coordination. Maybe Russia’s approaches to the Trump campaign went nowhere — and that Russia then released the emails anyway, for its own purposes. That would be a far less damning series of events for Trump and his aides.

Which senior Trump campaign officials were aware of — or participated in — Papadopoulos’s conversations with Russian agents? The Papadopoulos plea agreement includes multiple references to his exchanges with an unnamed campaign supervisor. “Great work,” the supervisor told him, about the conversations. How much more did top officials know, and what did they do?

What’s the relationship, if any, between the Papadopoulos conversations and Donald Trump Jr.’s later meeting with a Russian lawyer? The approach to Trump, which came later, didn’t seem to building off of the Papadopoulos talks, based on what we know so far. It seems to have been a fresh, separate approach. Is that because the Papdopoulos talks went nowhere?

What did President Trump know, and when did he know it? So far, the investigation has publicly linked Trump to the Papadopoulos conversations only through a single meeting involving multiple people. At it, Papadopoulos told Trump he could set up a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. It remains unclear how Trump responded, if at all, and what else he knew about any of the links between his campaign and Russia.

What does Robert Mueller, the special counsel, already know that he hasn’t made public? The best guess seems to be: A lot.

Yesterday’s filings were full of new information, which suggests that Mueller is releasing information on his own timeline, rather than having it drip out through anonymous leaks — as The Times’s Nick Confessore noted. Daniel Alonso, a former federal prosecutor, tweeted: “Mueller/FBI/IRS are not leaking. Exactly as it should be.”

A campaign of ‘confusion.’ “Trump’s media allies downplay, deflect and deny stories that are trouble for the White House,” CNN’s Brian Stelter explained. “Instead, they tell viewers and readers to hate Hillary Clinton.”

“This is a campaign of confusion. It is one of the most important things happening in politics today,” Stelter said. And it was in full swing yesterday, as Trump’s media allies tried to shift attention toward fake Clinton scandals.

Fox News hosts talked about uranium (a non-scandal) and cheeseburger emojis (seriously), although Shep Smith was a notable exception, covering the news in a reasonably accurate way.

At RedState, a writer argued: “Today’s indictments were a huge disappointment to those hoping for a deus ex Mueller event to remove Donald Trump from the White House.” The charges against Papadopoulos, “a bit player in this whole sorry melodrama,” were “preordained at the very moment he agreed to be interviewed by federal agents because if they want you, they got you.”

On the Christian Broadcasting Network, the televangelist Pat Robertson said that Trump “has every right to shut Mueller down … He can grant a blanket pardon for everybody involved in everything and say, ‘All right, I pardon them all. Case closed. It’s all over.’ And I think that is what he needs to do.”

In The Times. Michelle Goldberg, Nick Kristof, Harry Litman, David French, Norman Eisen, Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and the editorial board all offer their takes on the Mueller news.

On a lighter note: The original pinned tweet.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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