Robert Mueller continues his multi-track investigation. Each plea or indictment can be examined through three lenses - collusion, obstruction and financial crimes.
In the case of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the charges against them are financial in nature. But the seriousness of the charges and the details they have produced strongly suggest the prosecution team is looking for Manafort and Gates to cough up additional information on the collusion end of the story.
Whom were they directing or approving to have contacts with Russians? What role did they play in changing the GOP platform at the Republican convention in a way that would harm an independent Ukraine (i.e. help Russia)? What did President Donald Trump know?
One can also speculate that the tour de force of financial investigation of Manafort and Gates would rattle anyone (like the president) who had thought that multiple shell companies and foreign bank loans might escape purview.
Then there is former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who is not such a small fish, and we now learn was sidling up next to the bigger fish. The Post reports:
"Interviews and documents show that Papadopoulos was in regular contact with the Trump campaign's most senior officials and held himself out as a Trump surrogate as he travelled the world to meet foreign officials and reporters.
"Papadopoulos sat at the elbow of one of Trump's top campaign advisers, then-Senator Jeff Sessions, during a dinner for campaign advisers weeks before the Republican National Convention, according to an individual who attended the meeting.
"He met in London in September 2016 with a mid-level representative of the British Foreign Office, where he said he had contacts at the senior level of the Russian government.
"And he conferred at one point with the foreign minister of Greece at a meeting in New York."
This should be unsurprising in a disorganised campaign with a dearth of experienced foreign-policy hands.
An ambitious young man can do a lot - especially if he is encouraged by more senior people. ("While some top campaign aides appeared to rebuff Papadopoulos's persistent offers to broker a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, there is no sign they told him directly to cease his activities or sought to end his affiliation with the campaign. . . . Emails included in court documents show that Papadopoulos repeatedly told Trump campaign officials about his contacts with people he believed were representing the Russian Government.")
Remember also our multiple lenses.
The Papadopoulos plea surely leads to questions about who else was communicating/collaborating/colluding with Russians.
However, and just as important, the knowledge that he was engaging in such activities - like the multiple meetings between Jared Kushner and Russians during the transition and the June 2016 meeting between Russians and Donald Trump jnr, Kushner and Manafort - in the aftermath of WikiLeaks and Russian meddling would understandably prove embarrassing and even incriminating.
Kushner would be motivated to leave such contacts off disclosure forms. Jeff Sessions would have reason to forget such goings-on when testifying before Congress.
The President would be nervous that former FBI Director James Comey would uncover such evidence, thereby suggesting that his critics were right. (He won the race with the help of a hostile, foreign power.)
Now we know that Sam Clovis is assisting prosecutors. He might have further knowledge of possible collusion - but also might be able to say whether others who later wanted Comey fired knew about the Russian forays, and therefore, would have the intent to obstruct justice.
We know that Michael Flynn, who has gone silent but whose son is now the target of investigations (this would be in keeping with a common pressure-tactic of charging a suspect's relatives in order to encourage the suspect to be more forthcoming), had contacts with the Russians (his paid speech in Moscow in December 2015; his appearances on the Russian propaganda TV network RT; his contacts during the transition, about which he lied).
As Trump's top foreign-policy adviser in the campaign and later national security adviser, Flynn would know what information Trump was privy to - and therefore provide an explanation as to why Trump reportedly reached out to Comey to lay off prosecution of Flynn.
We see a sliver of what the prosecutors are up to, but only a sliver.
And even with regard to what we think we know, we've yet to find out the way(s) in which accused players implicate others.
You can understand why Stephen Bannon and other allies are so anxious to discredit, defund or dismiss Mueller.
He is the one person who Trump cannot intimidate or distract and who is better at finding out the truth than others are at concealing it.