On Oct. 30, the first indictments were handed down in the investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Paul Manafort and Robert Gates received twelve felony counts. Manafort and Gates did not register as foreign agents when doing business in Russia. They are also accused of helping the Russian government in the influence and invasion in Ukraine. George Papadopoulos was the first person to take a plea deal and likely led to the arrest of Manafort and Gates. He plead guilty to felony lying to a government official. It is expected Manafort and Gates will also take a deal in exchange for giving up names in the investigation, though, they both have plead not guilty.
When asked about the investigation and indictments, Political Science professor Robin Bittick said, “I think the indictments are just. One does not lie in investigation if there is nothing to hide.” College Republican President Javier Cruz responded, “I do not think these indictments prove collusion. Papadopoulos is the only person who has shown collusion. We need to keep an open ear on the investigation, but I believe the judicial system will bring a just sentence.”
On the campaign trail, Trump said to Russia, “If you are listening, if you hack Hillary’s emails, you will be greatly rewarded.” Professor Bittick was asked if he believed Trump committed a crime and he responded, “I will not be surprised if Trump is guilty of a crime, but I do not know he did for sure.” Cruz responded saying, “It is no secret he was friendly with Russia… I will say I do not think Trump committed any crimes himself… He would have already given some indication of wrong-doing, but he seems very honest in his statements that he did not commit such acts.”
When asked what the penalty should be if Trump is found guilty, Bittick said, “He is responsible either way. If he is found culpable, he should be tried and impeached.” Cruz responded, “I feel my opinion on the penalties shouldn’t matter. I believe that the U.S. is a nation of laws and whatever punishment they have for the crimes they are accused of will be just. The judicial system is something I trust and whatever verdict they are given it will be the right one.” Both Bittick and Cruz said in order for Trump to be impeached, more evidence of collusion should be presented.
Republican and Democratic politicians alike have concluded that Russia has meddled in the election. The only people deflecting or denying this are Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Trump reaffirmed this when meeting Putin on his Asian trip and absolving him of any wrong doing. Bittick concluded that, “Russia will continue to erode our democracy. The severity will only advance. This time in relations between us and Russia seem like a cyber-Cold War.” Cruz responded, “Russia will do what satisfies their interest. That is any nation on this earth. Is it right? I would say no but that is Russia. The United States is a symbol of western democracy and we will do whatever to protect the very foundation we built ourselves upon.”
Many in the Trump administration have suggested that the investigation is nothing more than a witch hunt and a Democrat controlled smear campaign on Trump. Bittick was asked why this has become a partisan issue, he said, “The party backs the president. They stood by him through everything in the campaign. They want to deflect and get people to focus on what Trump has done, such as nominating Justice Gorsch and getting their tax policy passed.” Cruz responded, “I don’t feel it’s a partisan issue. I feel like this is a public concern, media concern, and both parties are looking to see what comes from it. This investigation has become a mess and feel like the media has a big part in bringing us the facts. Many outlets are talking about Hillary also being involved so I feel like we have some cleaning up to do.”
Papadopoulos was the first person to flip in the investigation. More, including Manafort and Gates are expected to. Bittick feels “more will be uncovered and more people will inform and leak information. This investigation mirrors Nixon and the Watergate investigation.” Cruz said, “No, Papadopoulos is doing what he sees fit. The charges brought against him are scary and he pleaded guilty to save himself. Like Russia he will do what he thinks will serve him the best.”
There has been evidence of Trump throwing his son-in-law Jared Kushner under the bus. Bittick suggested, “Trump is a survivalist. He will do anything to save himself. He is unethical and it is his nature.” Cruz retorted, “I don’t think he is throwing him under the bus. I feel he is holding him responsible for the advice he gave. He is an advisor and if he isn’t doing his job right he should be called out for it. Just like when Trump does something I don’t agree with I will disagree with him.”
Trump and Press Secretary Sanders have been deflecting questions on the investigation, even suggesting Hillary Clinton is the real criminal. Bittick suggested, “There are many low-information voters and people who have little information. They will believe anything Trump says. When he said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and they would still support him, he was not kidding.” Cruz responded, “They aren’t deflecting just focusing on the nation at hand. They have no reason to answer for anything if no evidence has been presented. He is focusing on running a country, if he has no charges against him. I don’t think he should get involved in something that doesn’t concern him directly. His best move is to focus on the country, not the investigation.”
When asked if anyone would see prison time, Bittick responded, “Yes. I have said from the beginning there would likely be a President Pence. In the case of Watergate, the investigation showed evidence. It went all the way up the chain. Conversely, Iran/Contra did not show collusion at the top, but that does not mean it did not happen.” Cruz said, “I have no opinion on the matter. I will let our judicial system deal with that.”
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, the Trump administration is facing some serious controversy. It remains to be seen if there is collusion all the way to the top, but as more people talk, more information will be discovered. The investigation is crucial to every American to know to the extent Russia influenced our election and who allowed this to happen.