Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who played a huge role in shaping the Trump-era Republican Party, is the first casualty of the Russia probe.
After a weekend of speculation into who would be the target of the sealed indictment, we now know it to be Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort — who has had numerous shady dealings with foreign oligarchs favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Monday morning, Manafort turned himself in to federal authorities. Also named in the indictment, according to the New York Times, was Manafort associate Rick Gates, whose name "appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe."
Manafort was always thought to be low-hanging fruit. And it is likely that Republicans will spend the day trying to downplay Manafort’s importance or role in Trump’s circle.
But it is important to consider that Manafort played an enormous role in Trump's campaign and in creating the Trump-centric Republican Party that currently exists.
For one thing, it was Manafort who pushed Trump into selecting Mike Pence as his running mate and eventual vice president. Pence in turn has had a strong influence on Trump’s social policies and Cabinet picks, has led many of the administration’s fundraising efforts for GOP lawmakers, has been in the room for many of the Trump administration scandals, and is complicit in many of the matters now being investigated.
Further, Manafort, as the chief architect of the Republican National Convention in 2016, also had a role in rewriting the party's platform, striking language that was unfavorable to Putin’s interests, most chiefly regarding the Russian annexation of Ukraine.
Manafort was also in the now infamous meeting the Trump campaign and Russian operatives offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. That meeting also included Trump's son Donald Jr. and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Whether Manafort is a stand-alone indictment or whether Mueller hopes to turn him into a witness against other members of the administration is anyone’s guess at this point. But in either case, Manafort’s role in building the GOP brand as it exists today cannot be downplayed or dismissed.
Republicans have turned to some bad actors to help them win, and now they must pay the political price.