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.
Much remains mysterious about the Enquirer’s actions, and in particular its connections, if any, with President Trump and the government of Saudi Arabia — a possibility that Bezos alluded to in his blog post. Both the Saudis and Trump are aggrieved at The Post, and Trump wrongly blames Bezos for the newspaper’s accurate but unflattering coverage of him. When the Enquirer’s initial article about Bezos’s extramarital relationship was published, the president gloated in a tweet: “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!”
The president would obviously love to see a sale of The Post to a friendlier owner — perhaps Trump pal David Pecker, the chairman and chief executive of AMI. (One is reminded of autocrats such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have benefited from bullying media organizations into submission in their own countries.) The Enquirer was threatening Bezos in order to get him to affirm that its coverage was not “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” Might the Enquirer have, at a minimum, pursued the story to curry favor with Trump?
.. This is apparently not the first time the publication has been accused of extortionate demands. Other journalists, including Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker, have said they were threatened by the Enquirer’s lawyers while investigating the tabloid’s relationship with Trump. And Bezos wrote that “numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI.” These machinations are now being exposed because of Bezos’s smart and courageous decision to confront the Enquirer rather than give in. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,
.. I suspect David Pecker will rue the day that his friend Donald Trump became president — if he does not already. And he is not alone.
- Paul Manafort had a flourishing business as an international influence-peddler before he became Trump’s campaign chairman. He now faces a long stretch in prison after having been convicted of felony financial charges. Trump’s friend
- Roger Stone has now been indicted for the first time after a long career as a political dirty trickster.
- Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, has gone from well-respected general to felon.
- Michael Cohen had a cushy career as Trump’s personal lawyer before his client became president. Now Cohen, too, is a felon. Numerous other Trump associates and family members are facing, at a minimum, hefty legal bills and, at worst, serious legal exposure.
Every organization Trump has been associated with — the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, the Trump campaign, the Trump administration — is being investigated by prosecutors and lawmakers. His name, long his biggest asset, has become so toxic that bookings are down at his hotels. And Trump, a.k.a. Individual 1, faces a serious threat of prosecution once he leaves office. Before it is all over, Trump himself may regret the day he became president. His unexpected and undeserved ascent is delivering long overdue accountability for him and his sleazy associates. We have gone from logrolling to having logs rolled over — and it’s about time.
Trump had got himself into a major jam. One problem was that he hadn’t expected to win the election, which meant that he could promise anything without worrying about whether he could deliver. In early January, The New York Times reported that Trump’s longtime former adviser, the now-indicted Roger Stone, suggested using the idea of constructing the wall to help the professional builder remember to bring up immigration, which was to be a major issue for him, at his campaign rallies.
The trick worked too well. Trump came to rely on the wall to bring rally audiences alive. “And who will pay for the wall?” he would shout to his audience. “Mexico!” the crowds would respond in unison. Of course, Mexico had no intention of paying for such a wall.
.. Pelosi clearly flummoxes Trump. He has never had to deal with a woman as smart, dignified, and tough as she is. She is his only known political rival for whom he has not been able to devise a withering nickname (as in “crooked Hillary”): “Nancy, as I call her,” he said, as he began to weaken against her, eliciting mockery in much of Washington (and on Twitter).
.. Trump’s immaturity and abysmal judgment were on display when, in his December meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, he blurted out, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.” He added: “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” Schumer visibly struggled not to laugh at Trump’s monumental blunder. Anyone minimally well informed knows that the person recognized as causing a shutdown loses in the opinion polls. Trump had trapped himself.
Every time there’s a government shutdown, Americans learn the same three things: that federal workers – derisively called “bureaucrats” – are human beings with families, illnesses, and other issues; that most don’t live in the Washington area, but are spread around the country; and that government contractors get hit, too – not Boeing and the like, but building cleaners, cafeteria workers, and so forth. So, in addition to the 800,000 or so government workers – some furloughed, some required to work without pay – an estimated one million others were also directly affected. Moreover, restaurants and other small businesses in the vicinity of government facilities were hurt by a lack of business. Stories of the shutdown’s harsh impact quickly began to dominate the news.
As the shutdown dragged on, politicians from both parties became increasingly restive. Republicans from areas with numerous government workers, many of them part of Trump’s base, became impatient. Many Democrats worried that though Trump was getting most of the blame for the shutdown, Pelosi’s intransigence would begin to backfire on them. But Pelosi held firm, counseling patience and explaining that as soon as Democrats offered Trump money for his wall, they would be playing his game and would lose their argument that the government must not be shut down because of a policy disagreement.
After government workers went without their first paycheck, the politically harmful anecdotes started rolling in: a woman who would have to decide between chemotherapy and paying the rent; a guard at the Smithsonian Institution threatened with eviction; parents who couldn’t explain to their children why they weren’t working and had no money.
Administration billionaires, like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said lunkheaded things (such as, Why can’t they get a loan?). Some employees who were forced to work without pay, in particular air traffic controllers, called in sick. FBI employees, among others, were lining up at food banks. Trump’s approval ratings dropped. Airline delays became the norm. Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who above all wants to keep the Senate in Republican hands, warned Trump that their side was losing the public-relations war.
As is his wont, Trump tried to camouflage his retreat. In a Rose Garden speech, he rambled on with familiar misleading statistics about alleged crimes committed by illegal immigrants and lied about how drugs enter the country – omitting that most come through legal ports of entry in cars, trucks, and trains rather than through openings along the southern border.
Pelosi had outmaneuvered Trump. Suddenly, the president didn’t seem so dangerous; he had tried various stratagems:
- a nationally broadcast speech from the Oval Office that even he knew was leaden;
- a visit to the southern border that even he didn’t think would change any minds; threats to build his “wall” – which by now had become steel slats –
- by decreeing a national emergency (which would probably land in the courts), though virtually no one agreed that there was an emergency. In fact, entries into the US through the southern border are lower than they have been in years.
As it happens, on that Friday night when Trump buckled, I was at a restaurant where Pelosi and her husband, Paul, were dining with another couple. When the House Speaker left her table, customers and staff alike applauded her. A waitress standing beside me was nearly in tears. She choked out, “We need someone who will fight for us.”
Stone is hardly a Bond villain come to life, but the allegations against him are one part of a bigger picture that doesn’t reflect well on the Trump campaign.
.. I posited a different theory: The Trump campaign wasn’t a collection of criminal masterminds — would masterminds rely on the likes of Stone and Corsi to conduct international espionage? — but an ad-hoc mix of comically inept crooks and grifters who were seeking to gain any advantage they could and have spent the years since lying to cover their tracks.
.. The Stone indictment advances my theory considerably. He is not alleged to have established any kind of ongoing, close working relationship with Julian Assange. Instead, he used intermediaries to squeeze out bits and pieces of information from WikiLeaks. He allegedly shared some of that information with the campaign, and then — when the special counsel’s investigation started — appears to have engaged in some of the most inept lying and witness intimidation I’ve ever seen. He denied the existence of documents that he should have known investigators would possess, and his threats to witnesses were almost cartoonish. In one paragraph, the indictment alleges he referred to a plan inspired by the movie Godfather II. In another paragraph, the indictment alleges that he threatened a witness’s dog.
..A combination of special-counsel indictments, guilty pleas, and reproduced emails has now shown that, despite their insistent, repeated denials of contact with Russians, Trump-campaign officials (including the campaign chair and the candidate’s son and son-in-law) were eager to meet with Russians to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton, were asking Roger Stone to connect with WikiLeaks — a reputed Russian asset — for information about its data dumps, and shared polling data with another reputed Russian asset. What’s more, we now know that Trump’s real-estate business continued to discuss a significant development deal in Moscow with Russians (including a Kremlin official) deep into the 2016 campaign.