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Paul Manafort arrest is ‘only the beginning’

They are big charges that carry big penalties and involve big money.

Paul Manafort worked closely with Donald Trump – both during and after his successful campaign run – and now he's charged withlaundering $18m (£13.6m), evading tax and operating as an unregistered foreign agent.

Lawyers, political watchers and even members of the Trump campaign team I spoke to thought that the FBI's investigation would eventually collar him.

And now, it has. The 31-page indictment and 12 counts do not make specific reference to the Trump campaign, but they do cover the period he was working with the then Republican presidential candidate.

It means a grave new political reality for the White House – the inquiry into Russian meddling which the President has repeatedly criticised is now likely to continue for many months and probably years to come.

Image:Donald Trump, Paul Manafort and Ivanka Trump in 2016

But while everyone was focused on the Manafort arrest, the real news was George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser, pleading guilty to lying about his Russian ties and what he shared with the Trump campaign.

Bradley Moss, who is a national security lawyer litigating cases related to the Trump-Russia dossier, told me: "Manafort is the shiny thing but he's relatively low hanging fruit right now.

"Papadopulous points at something potentially much bigger. He met with Russians to discuss dirt on Hillary Clinton and admitted that he lied about it."

The 30 year-old was quick to deny he worked with President Trump. But soon after that denial, an image Mr Trump himself posted on Instagram in 2016 resurfaced.

It showed Papadopoulos at a meeting with other advisers.

He may well be deemed a peripheral figure, but the charges against him will cast an uncomfortable shadow over a White House keen to move on.

The President's base is already fatigued by the Robert Mueller probe, but it seems it is here to stay.

The feeling here in Washington among legal eagles is that this is only the beginning.

Video:Russia and Trump: America's 'collusion delusion'?

FBI investigations often start with smaller individuals and charges and work their way up. The indictments already published may well soon be added to.

There is talk of potential plea deals – and given the extent of the charges, that may well prove appealing.

Now there's a guessing game afoot, with some speculating Trump's former foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn might be next.

Michael Caputo, a close friend of Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign adviser, told me these indictments are upsetting but not surprising since Manafort's lawyers were warned weeks ago.

"It's important to find out if this has anything to do with the President – and I highly doubt it," he said.

Many agree with him. There is no smoking gun yet and you'd think by now if there was it would have been established.

But that doesn't mean this investigation couldn't still prove damaging to the White House and a presidency.

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