As the political world waits anxiously for the seal to be broken on special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments, the smart money is on Paul Manafort as the principal target. Manafort is clearly corrupt, having made millions under the table selling his services to pro-Putin forces in Ukraine. He’s the target of an FBI probe focused on at least 13 suspicious wire transfers related to his dealing overseas.

Beyond pathetically attempting to redirect attention to Hillary Clinton and attack the integrity of the Steele dossier, the conservative line is that while Manafort may have been involved in shady dealings, and while Trump’s family and campaign may have met with Russians promising to deliver dirt on his opponent, Trump himself was not complicit with Russia to interfere in the election.

This is almost assuredly untrue, because there was no reason to hire Manafort in the first place except to collude with Russia.

It’s hard to remember sometimes given the insanity that has occurred since, but eyebrows were raised across the spectrum when Manafort was initially hired as Trump’s campaign manager back in 2016. Manafort was an ancillary player in Republican politics and already clearly compromised. My colleague Martin Longman noted earlier this year that Manafort was closely connected to Roger Stone, himself a disgraced crackpot with his own insalubrious ties and connection to likely Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0.

Manafort was a terrible choice for campaign manager, both in terms of competence and optics. It was neither a pick designed to buoy his populist credentials, nor was it a sop to the GOP establishment that Trump desperately needed at the time. The only thing Manafort had in his favor was his close ties to Putin, and there is no conceivable reason to have hired him except to leverage those ties.

If Manafort is indeed the primary target of Mueller’s probe, it’s a guarantee that the Trump campaign absolutely intended to collude closely with Russia as a longshot path to a difficult election.

Which means that one of two things is true: either Donald Trump was not closely involved in hiring his campaign manager or the rationale for it, or he directly intended to use Russian interference to win.

This would be a good time to remember that Trump’s last press conference of the campaign was the one in July 2016, in which he begged Russia to find the rest of the Clinton’s emails.

He did it. He knows he did it. And so do all his enablers in the Republican Party and the conservative media.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.