That the first indictment is against Paul Manafort … not a surprise. That the charges covers more than a decade of activity … not a surprise. That the very first charge on the very first indictment returned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is Conspiracy Against the United States … that’s jaw-dropping.

That charge also makes it clear that Manafort and his partner Rick Gates were not a conspiracy of two, as the count includes the language “together with others” in describing their conspiracy to interfere with both the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department. And the timeline covered by the charges explicitly includes the period in which Manafort served as campaign chairman for Donald Trump. Which certainly opens the possibility that the conspiracy charges may expand to cover more names related to the Trump campaign.

What’s also notable about these charges is just what they are not. They are not based on personal testimony. They are not based off of transcripts of discussions between Manafort and others. They are not vague, or debatable, or in any sense small. These are detailed charges backed up by hard numbers and details of specific transactions.

And while Trump’s defenders are rushing to declare that the indictments are “all about business,” the nature of that business is a thunderclap of doom for Trump. At the heart of the charges is one thing: The way in which oligarchs from Russia and other former Soviet states have used the New York real estate market as a means of bringing money into the United States. That’s a practice that includes not just Manafort, but Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and the other Donald Trump.


By the 2000s, the property developer and casino owner with ready access to the capital markets and the biggest New York banks was no more. A series of corporate bankruptcies had limited his financing options. …



In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.



He was their man.


These indictments are all about business. But it’s Donald Trump’s business.

The good news for Donald Trump, if anything about this can be seen as good for Trump, is that the specifics of the conspiracy charge also include violations of FARA—the obligation to register as a foreign agent. In fact, the conspiracy charge explicitly notes Manafort and Gates working to cover up obligations under FARA. Similar charges could certainly apply to Michael Flynn who, like Manafort, served as a foreign agent without registration and without reporting either the sources or amounts of his foreign income.

It’s the second count of the Manafort/Gates charges that applies directly to Trump: Conspiracy to commit money laundering. What the indictment bluntly calls “the scheme” launched by Manafort, Gate and others involves setting up LLCs to purchase real estate at high prices as a means of bringing in millions from outside the United States. That scheme aligns perfectly with Donald Trump’s actions at the point where he made a miraculous recovery from a series of business failures. The records of actions related to Trump, Bayrock, Felix Sater, Trump SoHo and many other entities are just as detailed, and just as conclusive, as those laid out against Manafort and Gates.

When it comes to Trump, the question will likely be his level of passivity. Yes, he made unreasonable amounts of money off of everything from Florida mansions to Trump SoHo condos by dealing with Russian oligarchs or with the same kind of LLCs through which Manafort attempted to hide his transactions, but was he really acting as a foreign agent—or simply as a willing stooge. Donald Trump benefited from a conspiracy, but was he too stupid to be considered an active participant?

The answer is … Trump seems to have actively sought out wealth through money laundering. He turned from money-laundering through his casino.


The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today imposed a $10 million civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort (Trump Taj Mahal), for willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). […]


To money laundering through real estate.


A Financial Times investigation has found evidence that one Trump venture has multiple ties to an alleged international money laundering network. Title deeds, bank records and correspondence show that a Kazakh family accused of laundering hundreds of millions of stolen dollars bought luxury apartments in a Manhattan tower part-owned by Mr Trump and embarked on major business ventures with one of the tycoon’s partners.
 


That’s going to make it hard to declare that he simply cashed the checks and considered himself lucky. Like Paul Manafort, Donald Trump was deliberately engaged in creating the entities and opportunities needed to facilitate money laundering.

There’s also the possibility that Donald Trump was directly involved in money laundering schemes that included Manafort and/or Gates. The indictment explicitly extends right up to 2017, completely covering the campaign period.

That’s not collusion … it’s just an illegal conspiracy.