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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

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.

Who in Congress is talking about Ukraine the most

Data: Quorum; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Mentions of Ukraine or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in congressional statements and social media posts have been on the rise — with nearly 1,000 already this month, according to data from Quorum.

Why it matters: The growing threat of a Russian invasion has been mirrored by a growth in Ukraine-related chatter.

GOP to use Supreme Court fight to target vulnerable Dems

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Conservatives know they're unlikely to stop President Biden from filling a Supreme Court vacancy, but they plan to target Senate Democrats who face competitive re-election fights and are all but certain to vote for the successor to Justice Stephen Breyer.

Between the lines: The general strategy will be to tie those Democrats to positions seen as political liabilities in states like Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire, where incumbents are seeking re-election this year, an operative briefed on early strategy talks told Axios.