On Monday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted: "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign." He has a point.
The revelation of indictments against Mr. Manafort, who for a time served as campaign manager for then-candidate Mr. Trump, offers no smoking gun proving collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Not yet.
Mr. Manafort is accused of money laundering and failing to properly declare his foreign assets and income to United States tax authorities. These are serious charges. However, what he is alleged to have done began years before he started working for Mr. Trump.
The President says the Manafort charges have nothing to do with him. Strictly speaking, and legally speaking, he's right.
What we just learned about Mr. Manafort's alleged activities adds nothing to the legal case against Mr. Trump. If you're dreaming of seeing Mr. Trump charged, convicted or impeached, the evidentiary ground for doing so is no firmer Monday than it was Sunday.
But the political case against Mr. Trump is another story, and always has been. To date, the most compelling evidence of his unfitness for office has not been hidden away, requiring teams of highly paid lawyers to ferret out.
Most of it is in plain sight, and reported on daily.
For example, long before Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller started investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, and long before there even was a Trump campaign, it was well known what kind of a person Mr. Manafort is. He is an international imagemaker for hire, and he spent years getting rich trying to do a cosmetic makeover of the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine.
In other words, a client regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin was Mr. Manafort's best customer. The former campaign manager is not the sort of man who should be near a president, or who a president should want near him.
That Mr. Trump brought him on to run his campaign was shocking and disquieting, and one more reminder of the kind of people this President has always tended to associate with. But that's not news.
The political case against Mr. Trump contains enough evidence to fill a book. And the decision to hire someone with Mr. Manafort's history is a whole chapter. Mr. Mueller's indictment of Mr. Manafort has a lot to say about Mr. Manafort's business activities – but the millions of dollars he earned overseas, from an ally of Moscow, and which it is alleged he hid from the U.S. government, long predate Mr. Trump's presidential candidacy. It doesn't touch on his relationship with Mr. Trump, or tell us anything more about the relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.
The charges against Mr. Manafort and his business partner, Richard Gates, may be a strategy to get them to testify against the President and to reveal what else they know about what Mr. Mueller is supposed to be investigating – namely, any connections there are between Mr. Trump and Moscow.
This is a longstanding strategy of American prosecutors. They throw the book at smaller-fry defendants and then threaten them with extremely severe punishment unless they testify against the big fish.
The only thing that Mr. Mueller revealed Monday that directly bears on the Russia investigation is the guilty plea of a former junior foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos. On Monday, it was disclosed that he has confessed to having last January made false statements to investigators about his 2016 conversations with people connected with the Russian government.
It's one more bit of evidence of questionable contacts between Mr. Trump's campaign and Mr. Putin's regime, but we already have rather a lot of evidence of such contacts, rising all the way up to the long-ago reported fact of exchanges between Mr. Trump's son and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Papadopoulos, in contrast, was a minor character on Team Trump – one of the campaign's five foreign-policy advisers. His conversations with an unnamed professor said to have connections with the Russian government, and a Russian national who claimed to be a relative of Mr. Putin, add to the list of exchanges between Team Trump and the Russian regime. But it doesn't deepen our understanding of the connection between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump – at least not yet.
As is the case with the charges against Mr. Manafort, Mr. Papadopoulos's guilty plea may shake the tree and yield all sorts of interesting fruit. The Mueller investigation, though many months old, is still in its early days. It may yet have years to run.
But on Monday, we learned nothing new about the Trump administration or its Russian connections.
The political case against Mr. Trump as President was strong prior to the election, and every day it gets stronger.
The legal case? It's still evolving. Mr. Trump's long-standing fear of the investigation, and his attempt to deflect public attention or to shut the inquiry down – as he did when he fired former FBI director James Comey – suggest there may yet be much to find.