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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller may soon be wrapping up his Russia investigation, according to multiple reports. Or, he may not be. No one really knows, and conflicting reports all appear to be coming from sources outside of Mueller’s tight-lipped team, giving independent commentators little hope of discerning their accuracy.

But as many have begun to expect the end of the investigation, observers have are starting to reflect on what we have learned so far. And opinions vary wildly.

Some are convinced Mueller has already come up empty. Some believe he may be on the cusp of something big, but he may struggle to prove it. Others are sure that new, devastating revelations are just around the corner. Some think that the special counsel had shown serious problems around the Trump campaign but nothing that could possibly warrant impeachment of the president. Many of Trump’s conservative defenders think Mueller has gotten desperate and is only charging people with “process crimes” because he couldn’t find anything more serious. And yet another group says that while worse may be coming, what we already know amounts to a damning imputation of Trump and his allies.

You can put me in this last camp.

Mueller has already laid out a damning case of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. If it were taken as seriously as it should be by Congress, the president would already have been impeached and removed from office.

First, to make clear what this means, I must address the word “collusion.” There’s been a lot of handwringing about the use of this word since every legal expert has repeated ad nauseam that there’s no legal definition of “collusion” outside anti-trust law. Many critics of the president have argued that, by talking about collusion, we play into the president’s “no collusion” narrative, where he gets to define the terms. It’s much better, they say, to talk about “conspiracy,” an actual crime Trump and his allies could potentially be charged with.

But this argument gets things entirely backward. We know now that Trump and his allies colluded with Russia on multiple occasions. We don’t know if Mueller or anyone else will ever have enough evidence to charge anyone with conspiracy, which must meet a strict legal threshold.

And “collusion” isn’t some meaningless term that can be redefined at whim; it means quite simply, wrongful or deceitful cooperation to promote a common interest.

And when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote the memo that appointed Robert Mueller to become the special counsel, he was clear that a core mission of the investigation was to pursue “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”:

DOJ

Another word for “links and/or coordination” that must be investigated by a prosecutor and relate to Russia’s incursion into the American democratic process is “collusion.”

Rosenstein continued: “If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

This is important because this memo outlines how the Mueller investigation should be assessed. It also contradicts what many, including Glenn Greenwald, have claimed, which is that Mueller is to “charge, indict and prosecute any Americans who criminally conspired with Russia over the election.”

“Conspiracy” is, indeed, one way a prosecutor could charge someone who had deceitfully cooperated with the Russians. But collusion, as it were, could be bad and of national interest even if it doesn’t involve breaking the law — and there might be other laws that people could break while carrying it out.

As many have noted, the FBI investigation of the election began critically as a counterintelligence operation. Investigators saw Russia’s interference in 2016 as a threat to national security. This threat included its work for the benefit of and its overtures toward the Trump campaign.

When Mueller was appointed, no one seemed to question this aspect of his assignment. No one said, “links and/or cooperation are not a crime!” Mueller was widely hailed, even by Republicans, as a superb choice to become the special counsel. The Republican Party widely accepted that Russia’s interventions demanded serious investigations — which included efforts by the Congress in addition to the special counsel’s work. This is because it is a centrally important national interest to understand the details of risks and threats to the democratic process.

And as Mueller’s investigation has proceeded, we’ve learned ample evidence about how Trump, his family, and his campaign secretly worked with Russia as it carried out criminal operations to affect the 2016 election in his favor.

The first piece of evidence concerns the negotiations to build Trump Tower Moscow. The details of these negotiations aren’t fully clear, but they were made official in October 2015, and we know they were kept secret from the American people. Had they been made public, the revelation could have thwarted Trump’s presidential ambitions. The secrecy served both the interests of the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, both of whom wanted to see Trump elected. It’s also possible that financing the deal would have run afoul of sanctions on a Russian bank.

This is, then, a form of collusion. It’s an agreed-upon lie for mutual benefit, even if this agreement was never explicit.

Crucially, Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, lied to Congress about these negotiations in an attempt to minimize them, showing how a crime arose directly from the collusion. This was done in line with Trump’s lies about having no business relationship with Russia.

The case of George Papadopoulos also remains somewhat hazy, but the outcome was clear: The Trump aide told a criminal lie to investigators to cover up the extent of Russia’s overtures to the Trump campaign. During the campaign itself, he shared the fact of the outreach from Russia with others in the campaign, even though the campaign would consistently deny any ties to Russia.

Perhaps the most egregious version of this form of collusion that has not yet resulted in any charges came from Donald Trump Jr. He set up a meeting for the campaign with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer in order to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton. He was explicitly told it was part of an effort from Russia to help his father’s campaign. At the meeting, the group discussed “Russian adoptions” — a fig leaf for a conversation that is really about sanctions.

Later, when Russia was accused of leading the effort to spread stolen emails to hurt the Democrats, Don Jr. lied and dismissed the notion that Kremlin had any interest in helping his father win:

Again, it’s important to be absolutely clear about what’s happening here: In line with his father’s rhetoric, Don Jr. is deceitfully helping the Kremlin engage in a cover-up of its criminal election interference.

We also now know that Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign manager, has been caught lying to Mueller and his team about his interactions during the 2016 campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI believes is tied to Russian intelligence. At one of the meetings that a judge has ruled he lied about, Manafort passed Kilimnik detailed polling data. While Manafort has not been charged with these criminal lies, Judge Amy Berman Jackson has ruled that they constituted intentional deception on his part and thus nullified his cooperation deal with Mueller.

And Roger Stone, a longtime ally of Trump who worked on the campaign, has, like Cohen, been charged with lying to Congress about the investigation. Stone’s alleged lies regard both his ties to WikiLeaks, which appeared to act on Russia’s behalf during the 2016 election and his communications with the Trump campaign. If he did lie, as Mueller claimed, he was covering up yet another vector of influence between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Finally, Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, lied to the FBI about his discussions with the Russian ambassador about sanctions during the transition period. This, again, appears to be more evidence that the Trump team’s interests and Russia’s interests were aligned in secrecy, even after the extent of the Kremlin’s threat to national security was clear.

So what has this all shown?

Put simply: Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia as it intervened in the 2016 election, intervention that was widely regarded as an attack on national security. While a counterintelligence investigation delved into these events, Trump’s allies, following the lead of Trump himself, told lies, including some criminal lies, to cover up aspects of this national security threat. (And the case presented here doesn’t even touch on the allegations that Trump himself engaged in criminal obstruction of justice.)

These aren’t mere “process” crimes. Mueller isn’t on a witch hunt. He didn’t trick anyone into a perjury trap. These lies were constant and intentional. They were coordinated to the same ends. And they were in line with the interests of a country that poses a threat to the United States.

It’s a relatively simple story, and even without any other charges, it should be absolutely politically damning for any sitting president. The fact that this is even controversial shows how deeply distorted American politics has become.

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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