8:14 PM 11/3/2017 – “Russian intelligence successfully penetrated Trump’s campaign operation at different levels.”

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Even as a tiny fraction of what the Mueller team now undoubtedly knows, the court filings drew a staggering portrait of how Trump’s world operated last year. It revealed how Russian intelligence successfully penetrated Trump’s campaign operation at different levels.

For several months, including during the Republican convention of last summer, Trump’s campaign was run by Paul Manafort, who operated in secret as a foreign agent of a regime friendly to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Before Manafort joined Trump in an official capacity, the charges indicate he laundered tens of millions of dollars for the Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych.

Perhaps even more ominous for Trump is the unexpected guilty plea of former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — once described by Trump in an interview with The Washington Postas an “excellent guy.” Papadopoulos admitted to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings with Kremlin contacts in search of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has two Hail Mary plays left — fire Mueller, or start war with North Korea: Burman

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Feeling cornered and under siege, an angry Donald Trump has embarked on a crucial trip to Asia, the longest foreign tour of his imploding presidency.

Increasingly, Trump is acting like a man who sees only two ways to survive. Given that, the only remaining question for him in his desperation may be this: “What should I do first?”

Will he fire Robert Mueller as the special counsel investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, which now seems only a matter of time, even though it is certain to trigger a constitutional crisis?

Or will he first try to regain popular support by risking a catastrophic nuclear war with North Korea, now closer than ever in the absence of any genuine diplomacy happening, even though it would inevitably result in hundreds of thousands of casualties?

This is a dangerous period in the turbulent Trump presidency, and for the world.

When the history books are written about this era, it is hard not to conclude that this week’s developments will loom large. This was the week we learned the first strong indications that — to put it in Trump’s vernacular — the jig is up.

The announcement from the Mueller team last Monday was a bombshell. Two senior Trump campaign officials have been indicted and a third Trump adviser has pleaded guilty. The 12-count indictment laid out the first charges in Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere with last year’s U.S. election — including the headline charge of “conspiracy against the United States.”

Read more: Trump talks like a strongman. Good thing he’s governing like a weak man: Analysis

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Even as a tiny fraction of what the Mueller team now undoubtedly knows, the court filings drew a staggering portrait of how Trump’s world operated last year. It revealed how Russian intelligence successfully penetrated Trump’s campaign operation at different levels.

For several months, including during the Republican convention of last summer, Trump’s campaign was run by Paul Manafort, who operated in secret as a foreign agent of a regime friendly to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Before Manafort joined Trump in an official capacity, the charges indicate he laundered tens of millions of dollars for the Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych.

Perhaps even more ominous for Trump is the unexpected guilty plea of former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — once described by Trump in an interview with The Washington Postas an “excellent guy.” Papadopoulos admitted to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings with Kremlin contacts in search of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

This week’s developments, as an opening volley from the Mueller team, provide an indication of what their strategy is. They are pressuring Manafort to co-operate and reveal what he knows about Trump’s role. They have already done a deal with Papadopoulos to tell them what he knows about who else was involved.

As Trump himself must know, it is widely accepted that Mueller has Trump’s tax returns in his possession. This means that Mueller’s team is able to pull together a complete picture of Trump’s financial relationship with Russians — including the years well before he announced for the presidency.

There have been numerous reports that Trump and his associates have been heavily financed by Russian oligarchs and mobsters, including those involved in money laundering, extortion, drugs and racketeering. If so, this would help explain why Trump has been so obsessively reluctant to be critical of Putin or of Russia since being elected president.

More than anyone, Trump would know the extent of his involvement with Russia — although Mueller, by now, may be a close second. Therein lies the danger for Trump. He knows that Mueller has the potential to destroying his presidency.

So — if you’re Trump — Mueller, somehow, has to be gotten rid of. The only question is when. Neither Trump nor his associates have ever acknowledged this, although Trump once described it as a “red line” if Mueller ever started examining his financial holdings. Mueller has certainly crossed that line.

It is widely accepted in Washington political circles that Trump is seeking an opportunity to fire Mueller. To this end, many of his media boosters at Fox News are working overtime in trying to come up with ways to discredit Mueller and his team.

Yes, the risks for Trump in this are enormous. Any firing of Mueller — not unlike the fabled “Saturday Night Massacre” by Richard Nixon in 1973 — would trigger a constitutional crisis. But in Trump’s mind, that would be a risk worth taking if the stark alternative — as a response to Mueller’s eventual findings — is impeachment.

This drama is only beginning.

Tony Burman is former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Reach him @TonyBurman or at tony.burman@gmail.com.

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