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Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Just minutes before the senior-most White House staff walked into Roosevelt Room for their morning meeting with Chief of Staff John Kelly, their phones lit up with news alerts of the first indictments in the Mueller probe.

The big picture: Nobody was surprised to learn that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is the first to be publicly indicted, along with his business partner Rick Gates, for alleged money laundering, failing to disclose foreign lobbying, and tax violations.

There are no TVs in the Roosevelt Room, a venue Kelly deliberately seeks out for its lack of distractions, but this distraction was unavoidable this morning.

The internal White House position, summarized by two sources: "Ty will take care of it." Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the Mueller investigation, conveyed the message to staff this morning that there'd be no response to the Manafort news.

One of those sources told me "people are relieved it's Manafort and not Flynn" who was indicted:

"[Manafort] is further removed because he wasn't here when Trump was elected … because it's Manafort it's purely a campaign matter. Nobody internal will be weighing in. That's the holding position."

Other sources close to the situation admitted they're less relaxed about where these indictments could lead.

I've had dozens of conversations about this subject with administration officials over the past months, and while nobody I've spoken to genuinely thinks collusion with Russia happened on the campaign, plenty worry about what Bob Mueller's crack team of financial investigators will turn up on Trump and his allies.

Manafort left the campaign in August, but his business partner, Gates, never fully left Trumpworld:

  • Gates raised money for the campaign and worked with the RNC. He worked with Trump's close friend Tom Barrack on the inauguration preparations. A former administration official spotted Gates at the White House several times early in the Trump administration; and he was, until March, working for a pro-Trump outside group, "America First Policies."
  • In other words: Just as Manafort can't be dismissed as a marginal figure in the campaign — something Sean Spicer absurdly tried to argue when he was press secretary — nor can the White House spin that Gates was a nobody.
  • "If there's any blowback it's going to be because Gates was not completely cut off," a former Trump campaign official told me.
  • A source who ran into Gates last week — before the CNN story broke about the imminent indictments — said his usually jovial associate looked "pretty dispirited."

Go deeper

27 mins ago - World

South Africa says it's being "punished" for detecting new COVID variant

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 22, 2021 in New York City. Photo: Eduardo Munoz - Pool/Getty Images)

South Africa said Saturday it's being "punished" for detecting the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries rush to enact travel bans and restrictions.

Driving the news: The U.S. imposed air travel restrictions from eight countries Friday in response to the Omicron variant. Countries in Europe and Asia have also implemented their own travel restrictions in response to Omicron.

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.