Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a secret White House taping system in Senate testimony. Trump once suggested that he may have covertly taped his conversations with Comey, though on Thursday he denied doing so. Nixon claimed the special prosecutor’s office was made up of political partisans out to get him, and Trump calls Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his staff “very bad and conflicted people.” Both presidents have also sharply criticized the press, calling it the “enemy.”
As if all these parallels are not enough, Trump’s surrogates have raised the possibility that he will fire Mueller, too. Presidential confidant and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told reporters earlier this month he believed Trump was considering the dismissal. Incredibly, longtime Trump supporter Roger Stone, who himself worked on Nixon’s reelection campaign, has loudly encouraged Trump to reprise the Saturday Night Massacre by firing Mueller. This despite the fact that Mueller—tapped to lead the FBI by George W. Bush in 2001 and selected by Trump’s own deputy attorney general to lead the Russia inquiry, has been on the job for only a month and is still hiring staff.
If Trump’s actions seem like a ham-fisted imitation of Nixon’s, they are no laughing matter. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she is “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire Mueller, and send a message that he “believes the law doesn’t apply to him, and that anyone who believes otherwise will be fired”—a perhaps unintentional allusion to Nixon himself, who once said that when a president does something, “that means that it is not illegal.” The usual limits on presidential power must apply to Trump, Feinstein argued: “The Senate should not let that happen. We’re a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone, a lesson the president would be wise to learn.”
The question is not whether Trump can fire Mueller—it is whether it would be a misuse of executive power for him to do so. Should Trump let Mueller go, it would spark a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen in four decades. The business of Congress would grind to a halt and the stock market would suffer a shock. With Comey’s dismissal as the backdrop, there could be an immediate resolution introduced in the House for Trump’s impeachment for attempting to obstruct a lawful, ongoing criminal investigation.
Rod Rosenstein, in his role as acting attorney general, followed the law in appointing Mueller to be special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” and related matters. It should be remembered that Nixon was named by the Watergate grand jury as an unindicted co-conspirator in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, and that the House Judiciary Committee cited his interference with Cox’s investigation among the grounds for voting in favor of impeachment. And only former President Gerald Ford’s pardon precluded an indictment of citizen Nixon for obstruction.
In Watergate, there were several Republicans in both houses who are remembered for putting country above party loyalty. The die-hards who stood with Nixon until the end—not so much. If Trump were to fire Mueller to cut off a full investigation, it would fall to congressional Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, to determine whether the United States continues to be a nation of laws. Americans would see whether a new
- Howard Baker,
- Lowell Weicker,
- Tom Railsback,
- Bill Cohen,
- Caldwell Butler, or
- Hamilton Fish
would step forward and join with Democrats, who would no doubt sponsor an impeachment resolution. Or would GOP lawmakers simply go along with a foolhardy reenactment of the Watergate scandal’s Saturday Night Massacre?
There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.
.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.
She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.
This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.
Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent, Ari Melber, breaks down how the most devastating claim made by Michael Cohen during his public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, is relevant to the Mueller probe. Melber walks through how Michael Cohen’s allegation that Trump was aware of the Wikileaks email dump before it happened, could potentially contradict Trump’s own written answers to Special Counsel Mueller.
As has been discussed ad nauseum, even if Mueller identifies criminal activity on the part of Donald Trump, Mueller will not indict a sitting president.
The real questions that should be asked are:
- Will Mueller identify coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign? This is Mueller’s original mandate.
- Will Mueller indict anyone from the Trump campaign with criminal conspiracy for this coordination? This follows from Mueller’s mandate.
- Will Mueller show that Trump was aware of the coordination and criminal conspiracy?
We already know the answer to the first question. The Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians directly and indirectly during the 2016 campaign. Here are 5 salient examples.
- Graf 44 of the July 2018 GRU indictment states that an American in contact with the Trump campaign was in touch with the Russian hackers in August 2016 discussing material stolen from the Clinton campaign. Roger Stone has admitted to being this American.
- Graf 11 of the January 2018 Roger Stone indictment states that in June 2016 Roger Stone was aware of stolen DNCC material before the DNCC publicly announced the hack.
- Graf 12 of the January 2018 Roger Stone indictment states that in July 2016 senior campaign officials were directed to contact Roger Stone about the stolen DNCC material.
- Court proceedings from the February 2018 Manafort hearing state that on August 2, 2016 Paul Manafort, while head of Trump’s presidential campaign, provided proprietary polling data to a Russian associated with the GRU.
- Court proceedings from the February 2016 Manafort hearing state that during the same August 2, 2016 meeting, the Russian associated with the GRU discussed sanction relief with Manafort.
Clearly the Trump campaign was interacting with the Russians. Mueller has already publicly identified some of this coordination. As well, paging through the Stone indictment and especially the Manafort proceedings, there are numerous redaction throughout. Mueller is aware of quite a few more interactions than he has made public. It is only a question of how deep this coordination ran.
Regarding the second question. It has been a source of puzzlement among people closely following Mueller’s progress why no Americans have been charged with activities related to the 2016 election. The charges to date have related to financial crimes before the election or false statements after the election.
Some have claimed that Mueller has not filed any indictments because there was no criminal activity during the election. This position is, at best, misguided, as criminality is apparent in the publicly released information.
Roger Stone’s activities, particularly his interaction with the Russian hackers, were criminal. Before Mueller is done, Stone will be indicted, at a minimum for conspiracy to hack the Clinton campaign, but also likely for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States in relation to his efforts with Russia to influence the election.
Paul Manafort’s activities, in particular his supplying of polling data to the Russians, appear criminal. Either Manafort stole the data from the Trump campaign, or Manafort acting as chairman of the campaign, was enlisting the aid of Russians to influence the election. Manafort will almost assuredly be indicted for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.
Given that we know Mueller can charge at least two individuals who were part of, or associated with, the 2016 Trump campaign, why hasn’t Mueller filed any indictments? It goes to reason that Mueller is waiting to file multiple indictments at a later date, and not just for the above activity.
One might ask who else might be indicted? Mueller has yet to interview either Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner about the 2016 campaign. Given that Mueller has interviewed pretty well everyone else associated with the campaign, and give that both of these individuals were at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians during the campaign, it is telling that neither has been interviewed. An obvious conclusion from this is that both are targets of the investigation and likely will be indicted before Mueller is finished.
All evidence points to Mueller filing multiple indictments for conspiracy to defraud the United States. It is a foregone conclusion that Stone and Manafort will be charged. It is quite possible that Don Jr. and Kushner will be charged as well.
About the third question, will Mueller show that Trump was aware of the conspiracy?
This is the million dollar question. Has Mueller found a smoking gun linking Trump to a criminal conspiracy with the Russians?
Clearly Trump is involved with, nay in bed with, Russia. One would have to be willfully ignorant to not notice how Trump has consistently thwarted efforts to sanction Russia, and how Trump has gone out of his way to have private conversations with Putin. But that is not the question. The question is whether Mueller can prove that Trump agreed to conspire with the Russians.
Mueller has hinted that he has some evidence of Trump’s direct involvement. As noted above, the Stone indictment indicates someone directed senior campaign officials to reach out to Stone. Exactly who could direct senior campaign officials? Was that Trump?
We do not know, although Mueller undoubtedly does.
- Mueller has already shown that member of the, or people associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians during the 2016 election.
- Information Mueller has released strongly suggests that individuals associated with the Trump campaign will be charged with criminal conspiracy.
- Mueller has yet to provide evidence that Trump was aware of, or involved in, this criminal activity.
So yes, I am still waiting with baited breath for Mueller to complete his investigation, and to see whether he implicates Trump in Russia’s efforts to influence the election.