• What Mueller Has, and What He is Missing

    March 4, 2018

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump



    Each week brings a new indictment from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller along with the same question: when will he produce evidence that the president of the United States committed treason?

    Because that’s what this is really about; Some Russians somewhere may have meddled in the election. But what Mueller has to answer is whether Trump knowingly worked with a foreign adversarial government to help get himself elected in return for some quid pro quo. Mueller is tasked with proving the president, now in his 13th month in office, purposefully acts against the interests of the United States because of some debt to Russia. Here’s what Mueller has, and does not have, so far in his case.

    Manafort and Gates

    Last Friday saw a 32 count indictment charging Paul Manafort and Richard Gates with a variety of money laundering, tax evasion, and wire fraud crimes, going back eight years or more, all related to the men’s work Ukraine. Manafort and Gates were indicted by Mueller on similar charges in October. There’s a lot of money involved, and the details in the indictment don’t look good for Manafort.

    A day after the indictment, Gates pled guilty to the very minor charges of participating in a financial conspiracy with Manafort wholly unrealted to Trump, and lying to the FBI about the details of a 2013 meeting. An associate of Gates, Alex van der Zwaan, pled guilty earlier last week to false statements about contacts with Gates regarding Ukraine.

    Manafort’s case is complex, no trial date has been set, and it will likely take a year or more to conclude once started. That Mueller filed additional charges last week against Manafort all buts screams he has no cooperation deal, that Manafort hasn’t “flipped” to tell all about his three months running the Trump campaign.

    The Great Hope of course is Gates pleading guilty means he will testify against Manafort to pressure him to take a plea deal to testify against a Team Trump principal, all based on the overall assumption there is something to testify about of course. To date, nowhere in any of this is it shown there is any direct connection to Trump, the campaign, the DNC email hack, Wikileaks, the Russian government, Putin, or anything else Russiagate.


    The Russian Trolls

    Two weeks ago Mueller dropped a multi-part indictment against 13 Russian citizens connected with the so-called troll farm. The indictment alleges the group bought Facebook and Twitter ads, planned small rallies, and otherwise “meddled” in the U.S. election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made clear there was no allegation in the indictment any American — including members of the Trump campaign — “was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” Rosenstein added “there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

    Persons in Russia, even if some connection to the Kremlin can be shown (it hasn’t been and since Mueller will never take this case to court — his defendants all live in Russia — it is unlikely it ever will be) “meddling” have little to do with what Mueller is charged with finding out. There’s no link to Trump or anything else Russiagate. In fact, the social media campaign started years before Trump announced his candidacy, and about half its modest ad buys took place after the election was over. The troll farm itself was not much of a secret; the New York Times did a “look at this internet madness” profile on the place, which operates quite openly from an office in St. Petersburg, back in 2015.

    Michael Flynn
    Mueller also charged former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn with a non-material lie to the FBI (teh FBI already knew the truth from surveillence, Flynn stepped into a perjury trap set up for him. The likely sentence is a fine.) Flynn initially plead guilty, though is understood to be reconsidering and may withdraw that plea. Flynn’s lies and other accusations centers on his work as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey, a NATO ally. Prosecutions for failing to register as a foreign agent are rare, and penalties generally light. Washington has played very loose with the Foreign Agents and Registration Act for a long time, as many former members of Congress and executive branch employees make millions working for foreign governments lobbying DC.

    Flynn also admitted he lied to the FBI about a conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period. The conversation, though not illegal, was surveilled by the NSA. Leaked information out of the Obama White House suggests the two men talked about outgoing President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its election interference. Flynn asked Russia for restraint in any planned retaliation. Critics claim this is a violation of the Logan Act, a law that has never been successfully prosecuted. Soon after the FBI interview in which Flynn falsely denied the conversation, Sally Yates, an Obama-era holdover serving as acting attorney general, warned the Trump White House Russia could blackmail Flynn over having lied. Ironically, many now believe Mueller is essentially blackmailing Flynn using that same lie, holding out a light sentence if Flynn tells all about Russiagate, again assuming there is anything tell and that Flynn knows it.

    George Papadopoulos

    Another output from the Mueller team is the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, who may or may not have been a serious part of the Trump campaign; Sarah Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, explained Papadopoulos’s role as “a volunteer member of an advisory council that literally met one time.”

    Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to the relatively minor crime (his likely sentence is a fine) of a non-material lie to the FBI about a meeting he had in London with a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud, another perjury trap of Mueller’s based on intelligence data. Mifsud had made a pseudo-reputation for himself jetting around the world bragging about his connections. He supposedly introduced Papadopoulos to two other people with claimed ties to the Russian government, and sought to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The professor said the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in “thousands of emails.” Much of this information is laced through the so-called Steele dossier paid for by the DNC and used by the FBI to later obtain a FISA warrant on one-time Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. No meeting took place and no emails or dirt was handed over.

    The cast of characters is interesting; one might imagine their credibility testifying at an impeachment hearing. Carter Page has not been charged with anything. He has recently claimed he is near-bankrupt, doesn’t have a lawyer, and has written manifestos comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2013, when a Russian agent made a limp try at recruiting Page, he described him as too much of an “idiot” to bother with.

    Papadopoulos has in the past made big but empty claims about his connections in Russia and his role in the Trump campaign. A solid characterization, as one analyst put it, is whether the “young adviser was making plans with actual Russian officials or whether he had drifted into a fog of hucksters, tricksters, and pretenders.”

    You Got What?

    Mueller, as best we know, currently has very little regarding Russiagate. He has what appears to be solid evidence of non-Trump related financial crimes by Paul Manafort and others. Most of that seems to have come from FISA surveillance on Manafort dating back to 2014. The FBI’s investigation at that time was dropped, likely when the U.S. decided against war in the Ukraine, and it appears Mueller went into the files and revived it now that the same information could be repurposed essentially as blackmail against Manafort testifying.

    Flynn and Papadopoulos are charged with relatively minor crimes, though the potential to stack other charges against them exists. The connections to Russiagate are, however, tenuous. Flynn’s contact with the Russia ambassador can be seen as a lot of uncomplimentary things, but it does not appear to be a crime. Page and Papadopoulos would be very weak witnesses. There may be a “conspiracy to commit something” charge in there with some shady lawyering, but it seems little more.

    What Mueller’s Missing

    That’s what Mueller has. Here’s what he is missing.

    The full force of the U.S. intelligence community has been aimed at finding evidence of Russian government interference in the 2016 election (still largely undemonstrated) for some 18 months, and the Comey/Mueller team aimed at finding evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia for about a year. It is reasonable to conclude they do not have intelligence that would form a smoking gun, no tape of a high-ranking Trump official cutting a deal with a Russian spy. If such information existed, there would be no need for months of investigation. Same for the Steele dossier, and its salacious accusations. If there was proof any of it was true, we’d be hearing it read aloud during impeachment hearings.

    What’s left is the battle cry of Trump opponents since election day: just you wait. The recount will show Hillary won. The Electoral College won’t select Trump. The Emoluments Clause will take Trump down. Or his tax returns. Or the 25th Amendment. Mueller will flip _____. The shoe will drop. Tick tock. And anything that looks like a weak move by Mueller is only an example we don’t yet understand of his keen judicial kung fu.

    No one knows the future. But so far the booked charges against Flynn and Papadopoulos, and the guilty pleas of others, point toward minor sentences to bargain over (never mind the possibility of a presidential pardon if it came to that), assuming they have relevant information to share in the first place. Manafort says he’ll go to court an defend himself. Mueller has produced nothing that has touched Trump, nothing connecting any meddling to a deal between Trump and Putin.

    The core task is not to prove some Russians, or even the Russian government, meddled in the election. A limping to the finish line conclusion to Mueller’s work just ahead of the midterm elections that Trump somehow technically obstructed justice without a finding of an underlying crime would tear the nation apart. Mueller is charged with nothing less than proving the president knowingly worked with a foreign adversarial government, receiving help in the election in return for some quid pro quo, an act that can be demonstrated so clearly to the American people as to overturn an election well-over a year after it was decided.

    It is a very dangerous thing to see the glee so many display hoping Trump will be found to be a Russian agent. That pleasure in hoping the U.S. is controlled by a foreign power because it means Trump will leave office early is not healthy for us. Mueller can fix that, but so far the bar is still seemingly pretty high above him. Given the stakes — a Kremlin-controlled man in the Oval Office — you’d think every person in govt would be on this 24/7 to save the nation, not just a relatively small staff of prosecutors ever-so-slowly filing indictments that so far have little to do with their core charge.



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    Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      Demented, a commie agent? That would assume some degree of intelligence, nichtwahr? No, Demented is an idiot. How much more proof do you need? The idiot got caught in Moscow with his pants down…again. No doubt Putin has him by the balls. But Demented is going down because he is so stupid to do some business/ money laundering deals with Russkie mobsters aka Russian government officials. Mueller doesn’t have to look too hard to find the paper trail. Mueller will put Demented before a grand jury and Demented will do the only intelligent thing….resign.

      03/4/18 6:59 PM | Comment Link

    • john Poole said...

      2

      What does Mueller have on Brian Pagliano? Oh,wrong candidate.

      03/5/18 8:32 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      JP,

      They ALL belong in jail.

      03/5/18 8:42 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      4

      Now if they were to go after the family for the emoluments clause, gross misuse of taxpayer funds, and nepotism, they might have something.

      03/6/18 4:18 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      5

      teri- my suspicion is that Mueller has now realized that going hard on Trump would mean fatal collateral damage to Clinton and Obama.

      03/6/18 10:09 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      And that would be bad because….?

      03/6/18 2:19 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      7

      Bauer- I don’t think Mueller can bring down Trump without hurting his friends the Clintons and Obamas and hundreds of others who are his colleagues and partners.

      03/6/18 2:51 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      8

      I’ve heard that if you show your Red Sparrow ticket stub at your local bookstore you get a 10% discount on the new Jane Mayer book inferring that Trump colluded with Putin. What patriotic American would pass up that deal? (satire).

      03/7/18 9:18 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      9

      Wouldn’t most of us here enjoy seeing Stormy Daniel’s recent 1040? How does her tax attorney list the $130K from Trump’s personal lawyer? It is filed under miscellaneous income or in a special box marked: gratuities, hush money, bribes? Well, I’m curious.

      03/7/18 10:55 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      Trump listed it as “legal fees.”

      03/7/18 4:29 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      11

      Bauer- I don’t care about Trump’s 1040 – only Stormy Daniels. She can say the $130K was a gift from an admirer but the IRS might want to check to see if that giver took it as a tax deduction or paid the gift taxes.

      03/7/18 7:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      12

      Mueller has what he needs to take the wind out of Demented’s sails. He just needs parallel construction to get the illegal 702 surveillance info into the court system. Getting his minions to make false statements to get them to flip on Demented is his MO.

      “An ill will Stellar Wind blows no one any good.” – Richie Scalia

      03/8/18 8:42 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      13

      Bauer- I doubt Hillary, Lynch, Comey and Obama want a truly deep probe. Where were they during the Russian “meddling”? Pulling Trump down just brings too much legacy tarnishing of our first half white POTUS hence I think he’ll stay put.

      03/8/18 9:08 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      14

      JP,

      Killery has more blood on her hands than Russian meddling.

      03/8/18 11:00 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      15

      If Trump wanted to shut Mueller down he can by shutting down the illegal surveillance of Americans and prevent it from being used in court:

      “Most of the discussion around the NSA has focused on the phone records surveillance program. Unlike that program, collection done under Section 702 captures content of communications. This could include content in emails, instant messages, Facebook messages, web browsing history, and more.

      Even though it’s ostensibly used for foreign targets, Section 702 surveillance sweeps up the communications of Americans. The NSA has a twisted, and incredibly permissive, interpretation of targeting that includes communications about a target, even if the communicating parties are completely innocent.

      The NSA has confirmed that it is searching Section 702 data to access American’s communications without a warrant, in what is being called the “back door search loophole.” In response to questions from Senator Ron Wyden, former NSA director General Keith Alexander admitted that the NSA specifically searches Section 702 data using “U.S. person identifiers,” for example email addresses associated with someone in the U.S.”

      Who was that unmasked man?

      03/8/18 11:16 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      16

      Bauer- agree. It might come down to the “unmasking” aspect. What was legal surveillance and what is now allowable in a court of law. You and I know EVERYONE!!!!!!”bent” the rules. regulations and procedures. Politics just draws the most damaged and broken individuals- for example Benjamin Wolf running for congress in Ohio. He is a typical dissembler who used to work for DS until he “left”.

      03/8/18 3:25 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      17

      The heroine of feminists today (“You go Stormy!”) in my opinion is a sleazy porn star blackmailer. She was probably amply compensated for her sexual services ten years ago in Reno by Trump personally. Hush money to me is always blackmail. Is hush money illegal under IRS regulations even if declared? Was it declared? Money was wired from a phony company in Delaware to Stormy’s accountant to conceal the source. She was clearly blackmailing Trump. Mueller’s head must be spinning. His charter allows him to investigate “ancillary” issues. I doubt he was prepared to be swamped with so much damning data.

      03/9/18 9:16 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      18

      $130000 must mean it is very bad …like keeping her quiet about an Abortion demanded by Demented? If so, then
      Melania’s lawyer will have fun with her prenup. The religious right will be demanding Pence and Sessions remove the evil from the White House.

      03/9/18 7:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      19

      So that Baby Trump picture is very telling, Peter.

      03/10/18 6:58 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      20

      PVB’s last line (Mueller’s core charge) may not matter. It is the ancillary discoveries that may lead to an impeachment hearing. Trump’s fans seem to relish that he is a vulgar figurehead. They envy only his wealth while feeling superior to him in every other aspect.

      03/10/18 9:06 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      21

      If Trumpie is a commie traitor, then too bad Mueller is missing the death penalty. Trumpie would actually support the death penalty, seeing he wants to use it for drug traffickers. The religious right thinks it should be used against abortionists too. If Stormy has the proof Demented forced her to have one, the Repugnicans will kill the little bird with his own stone.

      03/11/18 1:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      22

      Treason is one of the two enumerated high crimes and misdemeanors in the impeachment clause of the Constitution. (Bribery is the other.)

      The person executed would almost certainly be the former President, as Congress would likely impeach and convict before the criminal trial — even if an indictment preceded the conviction, the indictment would concentrate the minds in the House and Senate alike. It has never been tested at Presidential level, but it has been claimed that impeachment would take precedence over the criminal case. Even if that does not prove to be so, the embarrassment of the President being charged criminally would likely lead to his removal.

      On the other hand, treason has a wide range of potential penalties, and for the sake of political peace, it would be unlikely that the maximum would be imposed — even if he was not pardoned.

      03/11/18 7:37 PM | Comment Link

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