A lot will be said about the federal indictment of Paul Manafort and his business partner Richard Gates. Much of that will involve talk of “collusion,” Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, opposition research, etc. This talk might end up being relevant someday, but so far it’s not really relevant to the indictment.
Here, simplified and translated into layman’s terms, what the federal government is alleging:
Paul Manafort was a lobbyist for Putin-backed forces in Ukraine, and he allegedly covered it up by disguising payments and refusing to register as a foreign agent — which is required by law. Along the way, Manafort allegedly didn't pay taxes on this income. Manafort’s partner Gates is named in the indictment, too.
An indictment is not proof. It’s an accusation, and Manafort and Gates must be considered innocent until proven guilty. There’s plenty we know about this case, including the work he did for the Ukrainian clients and the filings he didn’t file, but there’s plenty we don’t know.
All over the media, today, commentators are getting ahead of themselves, rushing to see this indictment as the first domino to fall in a case that eventually will lead to the White House and the Oval Office. Former celebrity prosecutor Preet Bharara, for instance, went around the media speculating that Manafort is being indicted as a way of squeezing him to cooperate on another investigation. Bharara’s implication is clear: Mueller wants Manafort to spill on Trump.
There’s a much simpler explanation, though: Paul Manafort was by all appearances a shady lobbyist with shady and lucrative Kremlin ties, and he may have covered up those Kremlin ties in illegal ways.
Manafort’s shadiness makes Trump look bad because Trump hired him during the campaign. But Manafort’s shadiness also means it’s less likely he’s being squeezed in pursuit of someone higher up — he may be being indicted simply because federal investigators think he broke the law in a significant and deliberate way.
If we're to assume anything from Manafort's and Trump's relationship, it's that Manafort wanted to peddle to the Russians his Trump access.