The indictments of two high-level campaign advisers and a plea deal secured with a third by special counsel Robert Mueller provides enough evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, a number of Democrats said Monday.
Democrats specifically pointed to Trump’s foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos’ plea deal, in which he admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. But Senate Democrats have few tools at their disposal to push the issue and Mueller’s first charges come as the ongoing congressional investigations into Russian meddling have quieted down.
“There are clearly facts and evidence that show collusion by the Trump campaign with the Russians,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters Monday evening. “What this indictment shows in its depth in detail is outreach toward the Russians, involvement with the Russians, payment by the Russians to people intimately involved in the Trump campaign.”
“Clearly Paul Manafort was a Russian agent,” added Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., echoed Blumenthal’s assessment, saying the Papadopoulos plea is a “very clear suggestion that there was communication between the Trump campaign and representatives of Russian government.”
Democratic leaders on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which are both conducting separate investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, said the indictments won’t impact their probes but it’s clear the information released as a result of the charges have raised more questions.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wouldn’t say if Monday’s revelations provided enough evidence Trump’s campaign intentionally colluded with the Russian government, but admitted there “seems to be a pattern.”
“In the case of Mr. Papadopoulos, one more vivid example of the Russians efforts to reach out to individuals within the Trump campaign about dirt, quote unquote dirt, and emails on Hillary Clinton,” Warner said
The ranking member on Judiciary, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said she doesn’t expect the indictments to change her line of inquiry too much, but underscored the limited ability of congressional probes to dig into the financial dealings of individuals like Manafort, who hid millions of dollars in overseas shell companies and evaded taxes.
“The finances always were a big problem for a lay body if you don’t have the ability to get the material from FinCen [the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network], and I guess Mr. Mueller did and so we need to look at that,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said, referring to a bureau of the Treasury Department tasked with safeguarding the country’s financial system from illicit use.
FinCen combats money laundering and national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence.
The overarching consensus among Democrats, however, is for the congressional probes and Trump to stay out of Mueller’s way.
Immediately after the indictments dropped, Democrats ramped up calls for legislation that would shield Mueller from any retaliation by Trump. But the likelihood of such a measure coming the floor is small.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who co-sponsored a bill that would allow a special counsel to challenge his or her firing, said he has no commitment from Republican leadership to bring the measure up for a committee vote or to the floor.
Coons is trying to combine his bill with another one introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Cory Booker, D-N.J., that would require a Justice Department official to receive approval before firing Mueller.