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EDITORIAL: Mueller unseals first wave of indictments in Russia-Trump investigation

Robert Mueller dropped his first bomb on Monday, and the result was more of a loud thud than an explosive bang. The former FBI chief now investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election unsealed a handful of indictments, none of which was directly connected to President Donald Trump.

Mr. Mueller charged two former Trump campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, with tax evasion and money laundering dating back a decade and connected to work done for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. They were also charged with conspiring against the United States and failing to register as lobbyists. The Wall Street Journal noted that the latter allegation hasn’t been successfully prosecuted since 1966.

In addition, Mr. Mueller revealed that a third man, George Papadopoulos, had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators — the catch-all accusation that prosecutors use when they don’t have much else. Mr. Papadopoulos was a low-level foreign policy “adviser” during the Trump presidential run. Speculation is running rampant that he will now sing to Mr. Mueller’s team and provide information leading to more indictments.

The Manafort and Gates indictments seem far afield from Mr. Mueller’s mandate as special counsel. But that’s typical of these probes, which tend to expand and take on a life of their own as pressure builds on investigators to produce results.

Mr. Trump reacted in typical fashion — by flexing his thumbs. “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” the president tweeted. “But why aren’t crooked Hillary &the Dems to focus????? Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

Mr. Trump is certainly his own worst enemy at times, responding to every perceived slight with a howitzer. But he has a point here. Recent revelations about the firm hired by Democrats to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign deserve attention (see Patrick Buchanan’s column on the opposite page).

Some have speculated that the president may try to pull the plug on Mueller’s office, which features 16 attorneys and two dozen FBI agents. That would be a mistake. The administration, if it hopes to ensure the probe wraps as soon as possible, should resist the temptation to meddle and continue to urge full cooperation with the investigation.

At this point, Mr. Mueller has offered up no bombshells, no evidence that the Trump campaign “colluded” with the Russians to steal the election. Perhaps at some point he’ll explain how the Russians prevented Hillary Clinton from campaigning in Wisconsin or how they hornswoggled the Democrats into nominating such a toxic candidate.

No doubt, there will be more to come. In the meantime, let’s see how everything plays out. There will then be plenty of opportunity for a full assessment of Mr. Mueller’s work.

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