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Charges against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort emboldened Democrats to call for greater protection for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
While many stopped short of tying Manfort's charges directly to Trump, top Democrats reacted to the developments Monday with concern that the president could impede the investigation or perhaps pardon himself and any of his associates who are in legal jeopardy.
An indictment against Manafort and a former business partner Rick Gates, was unsealed Monday. Separately, court filings were unsealed Monday showing that former Trump campaign George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty 3½ weeks ago to lying to FBI agents about when he met with Russian nationals to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
"It is imperative that Congress take action now to protect the independence of the Special Counsel, wherever or however high his investigation may lead," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement. "Members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must also make clear to the President that issuing pardons to any of his associates or to himself would be unacceptable, and result in immediate, bipartisan action by Congress."
Warner is the vice chairman of the Senate's Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own probe into Russian meddling in the election, including potential collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russian government.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Mueller's probe is essential for U.S. efforts to counteract Russian attempts to interfere with elections.
"Even with an accelerating Special Counsel investigation inside the Justice Department, and investigations inside the Republican Congress, we still need an outside, fully independent investigation to expose Russia's meddling in our election and the involvement of Trump officials," the former House speaker said. "Defending the integrity of our democracy demands that Congress look forward to counter Russian aggression and prevent future meddling with our elections."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said "the investigation must proceed unimpeded."
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating potential Kremlin election meddling, trumpeted the indictments' importance.
"This is a key development. This is no small fish," he told NPR.