Special Counsel Robert Mueller is the extremely competent investigative monster of President Trump’s own making. Trump’s move to fire James Comey in an effort to end the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s potential collusion with Russia did the exact opposite. The investigation that Comey began in July 2016 was then dramatically expedited. The firing set off a chain of events that led up to Robert Mueller’s appointment. Since Mueller has taken command, the investigation has expanded in scope. Now, it has reached the President himself.
After writing about literally every moment of Donald Trump’s unpredictable presidency for 35 weeks straight, I’ve noticed a few trends that have remained constant throughout. One of them being that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s moves in the Trump-Russia investigation are directly correlated with Trump’s heightened unhinged behavior.
Right after Trump rescinded DACA, many in the media began trying to push the narrative that the President was “pivoting.” Trump huddled with Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, dealt with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and his tweeting was less ridiculous. The mythical John Kelly reset had finally taken hold, they claimed. Then suddenly, his Twitter started to gradually unravel, culminating in him retweeting a gif of himself assaulting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball. His provocations against North Korea worsened, growing to the point where he threatened to “totally destroy” a country of 25 million people. And it all came to a crescendo this past weekend with his unnecessary and divisive feud with the NFL.
Many claim the driving force behind all this was Trump trying to appeal to his base, which is true, but it’s also tied to the fact Robert Mueller requested documents and interviews from current and former White House staff in relation to the Trump-Russia investigation in early September. And Mueller is reportedly preparing to conduct some of these interviews later this week or early next week. Expect a spike in “FAKE NEWS” and “Russia Hoax” tweets in the coming days.
So, what brings this investigation to the doorstep of the seat of power? What information is Mueller requesting and what could President Trump and his associates be guilty of? We’ll dive into all that in a bit, but first, let’s talk a little about where Mueller’s investigation currently stands…
Robert Mueller has been assembling a team that is pretty much the legal equivalent of the Avengers. The team consists of more than three dozen investigators, staffers, and attorneys. These experts include his former partner James Quarles (was an assistant Watergate prosecutor), Andrew Weissman (head of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud unit), and Michael Dreeben (deputy solicitor general) to name a few.
Mueller has reportedly teamed up with the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit, which has 2,500 agents who focus on financial crimes like tax evasion and money laundering. This unit has already handed over records related to Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn (more on them in a bit). This fast-moving Special Counsel has already impaneled a D.C. grand jury to oversee the investigation. A grand jury can issue subpoenas, documents, obtain sworn testimonies, and bring charges. The grand jury has already issued subpoenas and sought testimony.
Mueller also obtained a warrant for the Facebook accounts linked to Russian entities. A warrant of this nature is no joke. It means that Mueller may believe he can indict these entities on election law violations. Facebook has toldCongressional investigators and Robert Mueller, that a Russian “troll farm” bought $100,000 worth of Facebook advertising (3,000 ads) starting in the Summer of 2015 and throughout the 2016 election, spreading divisive political posts, including posts that sought to sow racial divides, damage Hillary Clinton, and prop up Donald Trump. Mueller and congressional investigators are reviewing these posts.
This is where Trump’s son-in-law (White House Senior Adviser) Jared Kushner, who oversaw the Trump campaign’s data operations, and Brad Pascale come into play. Brad Pascale was the Trump campaign digital strategist, and he is a subject of investigators who are looking into whether or not there was any coordination between Trump’s team and Russian operatives in the spread of fake news — given the sophistication of Russia’s voter targeting. And when it comes to Kushner, the FBI has been examining his role as far back as May.
Along with its counterintelligence component examining Russia’s meddling, this investigation has expanded greatly. It dives into:
- The repeated contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives
- Potential coordination between Trump associates and Russia in the dissemination of anti-Clinton fake news and Russian propaganda
- Potential obstruction of justice on the part of President Trump
- Perhaps most importantly, the investigation has expanded to include potential financial crimes committed by Donald Trump and some of his associates, who have been widely accused of money laundering for Russian oligarchs
An Eye On The White House
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has told the White House that he will most likely interview six former and current Trump administration advisers, which include Communications Director Hope Hicks, former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, White House Counsel Don McGahn, Communications Adviser Josh Raffel, and Associate Counsel James Burnham. Hicks, Priebus, Spicer, and McGahn have all lawyered up.
The New York Times dropped a report that shows to the extent Mueller stepped up his investigation into the activity of the White House. According to White House Officials, Mueller has sought documents regarding 13 areas of interest. The requests were pertaining to the firing of James Comey, Trump’s Oval Office Meeting with Russians, Trump’s Air Force One crafted statement about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives, and documents related to former campaign adviser Carter Page, former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Here’s why Mueller wants info on these circumstances of interest:
The Firing Of James Comey
3 of Mueller’s requests are pertaining to the decisions and statements surrounding President Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey. It seems quite clear Trump fired Comey because he was eager to end the investigation into his campaign’s potential collusion with Russia, and from what we got from Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony, that appears to be the case. Comey’s prepared opening statement confirmed President Trump’s demand for loyalty in a private dinner, Trump’s request to end the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and that Comey did indeed write detailed memos of all his interactions with Trump.
These details combined with President Trump’s own admission that he had the Trump-Russia investigation in mind when he fired Comey and his comments to Russian officials in the Oval Office further bolstering this admission, has led Mueller to investigate the possibility of obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice was President Richard Nixon’s First Article of Impeachment. These are serious charges, and given the evidence, these charges should be taken seriously.
Oval Office Meeting With Russian Officials
Mueller has also requested documents pertaining to Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian representatives. In May, the day after firing Comey, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. In that meeting, Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence, revealing the location of an Israeli-provided intelligence source critical to the fight against ISIS, and, as per Russia’s TASS service, discussed anti-ISIS military operations in Syria and Iraq. Trump also appeared to give confirmation that he fired James Comey in an attempt to end the Trump-Russia investigation. The New York Times reported:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
June 9, 2016 Trump Tower Meeting Statement
As we know, Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting at Trump Tower after he was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton…he was explicitly told that the information being offered was part of the Russian government’s effort to aid Donald Trump Sr. and enthusiastically took the meeting anyway. Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Russian operatives were in attendance.
The email from Rob Goldstone to Trump Jr. that set up the meeting explicitly stated what the meeting was about, and it’s hard to believe that Trump Sr., a known micromanager, was not made aware of this email exchange or the Trump Tower meeting. Trump Sr. was at Trump Tower the day of the meeting and sent this tweet out about 40 minutes after the meeting was set to begin.
We’ve since learned that the initial misleading account of the meeting that came from Donald Trump Jr. was personally dictated by President Trump on Air Force one while he was at the G20 summit. Hope Hicks will be of particular interest here due to her role in helping to craft this statement.
Former National Security Advisor And Registered Foreign Agent
4 of Mueller’s requests were related to Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn came on board as Trump’s national security adviser (NSA) in early 2016. He advised Trump throughout the campaign and went on to be Trump’s NSA in the White House. Flynn was forced to resign from his position after he was caught lying about the December 2016 phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak where he discussed easing sanctions on Russia. As we later found out, these weren’t his only contacts with Kislyak or his worst wrongdoing. Flynn is particularly in deep trouble given the undisclosed payments he received from Turkey while advising Trump and sitting in classified national security briefings as an unregistered foreign agent. Flynn has a laundry list of issues, so I’ll just name a few here:
- Flynn had multiple communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 and lied about them to the FBI in 2017
- Russian operatives bragged about cultivating a relationship with Flynn
- Flynn attended a secret meeting in Trump Tower in December 2016 as a member of the Trump transition team with Jared Kushner and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Kushner asked to set up a back-channel line of communication between the Trump transition and Moscow
- Flynn was paid $530,000 as part of a $600,000 contract to lobby for the Turkish government. He then continued to participate in classified briefings and influence Turkey-policy
- The Trump transition team was told Michael Flynn may need to register as a foreign agent and it raised no alarms. President Trump and his administration knowingly allowed a foreign agent to participate in meetings where the United State’s most classified national security secrets were discussed. Flynn registered as a foreign agent in 2017
- Flynn was paid $11,250 by an American subsidiary of a Russian cyber security firm called Kaspersky Lab in October of 2015
- Flynn was paid more than $33,750 by Russia Today for attending their 10th anniversary gala in Moscow in December 2015
- Flynn was paid $11,250 by Volga-Dnepr Airlines, a Russian cargo plane company, for speaking at an event in August 2015. He did not disclose this payment until his resignation as NSA
- Flynn reportedly met with Turkish officials during the transition and discussed the possible expulsion of Turkish cleric and Erdogan rival, Fethullah Gulen, from the United States
- GOP operative Peter Smith sought Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails from who he thought were Russian hackers…And he was coordinating with Flynn
- Flynn was also reportedly involved in an attempted back-channel Ukraine peace deal effort involving Michael Cohen and Felix Sater
Former Campaign Adviser
Carter Page was a former adviser to candidate Trump until the Trump campaign distanced themselves from him after his Russia ties were reported on. Page is the founder of Global Energy Capital, an investment firm in New York, where he partnered with Sergei Yatsenk. Yatsenk is a former Gazpromexecutive, a Kremlin-owned energy company Page did business with during the time he lived in Russia from 2004–2007. Page’s 2016 trip to Moscow, meeting with a Russian spy in 2013, and admitted communications with Russians during the campaign has made him a focus of this investigation.
What Mueller Is Probing: Communications with Russian operatives. Page has long been a subject of FBI surveillance since 2014 and this year has undergone repeated FBI questioning.
What Mueller May Find:
- Page met with Victor Podobnyy, who turned out to be a Russian spy, in 2013. Podobnyy didn’t think much of Page, dismissing him as a greedy amateur with little valuable information, but the two may have kept in touch just in case the situation changed
- Page communicated with Russian operatives during the campaign
- Russians have reportedly attempted to cultivate Page as a way to infiltrate the Trump campaign
- Page went on a campaign approved trip to Moscow in July of 2016 to meet with Igor Sechin, the chairman of the Russia State-owned oil company Rosneft, and may have discussed the prospect of lifting sanctions on Russia. This is important because the Christopher Steele dossier (Glenn Simpson recently testified on Capitol Hill on the dossier) mentioned the meeting with Page and “that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate Western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft.” This is very important because as Business Insider reports:
Rosneft…ultimately signed a deal that was similar to the one the dossier described: On December 7, the oil company sold 19.5% of shares, worth roughly $11 billion, to the multinational commodity trader Glencore Plc and Qatar’s state-owned wealth fund. Page was back in Moscow on December 8, one day after the deal was signed, to “meet with some of the top managers” of Rosneft, he told reporters at the time.
Former Campaign Manager And Registered Foreign Agent
Paul Manafort was originally forced out of the campaign after reports of his foreign ties began to overwhelm the Trump campaign in late 2016. He worked on the campaign as an unregistered foreign agent. He finally registered in June of this year. Manafort’s story is a long one. Although Manafort did indeed meet with Russian operatives during the campaign, most of his wrongdoings happened way before 2016. From his extensive dealings with pro-Russia parties in Ukraine to being paid millions to push Russian interests in the U.S., Manafort is in deep. And as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation dives into the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian operatives and potential financial crimes (money laundering, etc) committed by Donald Trump and some of his associates, the heat is turning up on Manafort.
One of Robert Mueller’s main objectives when it comes to Manafort appears to be flipping him into a cooperating witness in the investigation. Manafort has been subpoenaed by multiple congressional investigations and associates of his, including lobbying firms, have also been subpoenaed. His son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, has met with federal investigators and provided documents related to Manafort’s possible money laundering or tax violations in his business dealings with pro-Russia parties in Ukraine. Mueller is examining these documents and is also reportedly cooperating with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to dig deeper into Manafort’s financial transactions (this state cooperation could complicate a pardon for Manafort given that a President can’t pardon state crimes).
CNN reported that Paul Manafort was wiretapped via FISA surveillance in 2014 as part of an investigation into Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. It was discontinued and then reinstated in 2016 after investigators caught a series of odd connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. Notably, the FBI wasn’t listening in during the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting. The surveillance reportedly continued into early this year and involved conversations with Donald Trump. Intelligence gathered reportedly “includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign.”
FBI agents conducted a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home this past summer, obtaining documents and other materials related to the Trump-Russia investigation. This was a no-knock warrant, indicating a lack of trust on the part of the investigators. They may have believed Manafort would attempt to destroy evidence. Mueller issued a warning after this raid, telling Manafort that he planned to indict him. The investigation into Manafort is reportedlyprobing as far back as January 2006. Two weeks before Trump accepted the GOP nomination, Paul Manafort reportedly offered “private briefings” on the state of the 2016 election to Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Manafortreportedly had a $10 million a year contract with Oleg Deripaska. The contract was part of a plan to assert pro-Russia influence in U.S. politics and lasted from 2006–2009. Paul Manafort moved into Trump Tower in 2006. A few more things you need to know about Manafort/why he’s a shady subject of this investigation:
- Manafort partnered with Yanukovych ally and Ukrainian billionaire, Dmytro Firtas, to redevelop a property in New York. Firtas was sued over the project, with the allegations being that it was a money laundering scheme. The project was canceled and the case was dismissed
- Manafort served as a lobbyist and political consultant for pro-Russia Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. He started in 2004, reportedly upon the advice of Russian oligarch and close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, and helped Yanukovych reshape his political image. His work went on for years. Manafort received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments between 2007–2012
- Manafort reportedly met twice with his former Russian-Ukrainian aide, from his Ukraine lobbying days, Konstantin Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign. A Kiev operative suggests that Kilimnik may have played a role in the Trump campaign’s gutting of anti-Russian stances from the Republican Party platform. Kilimnik also sent in emails regarding Deripaska, and they met in August to speak on it. Mueller is examining this
- Paul Manafort attended the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Russian operatives which sought to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Investigators are reportedly reviewing Manafort’s notes of the meeting which “contained the words ‘donations,’ and ‘RNC’ in close proximity.” According to NBC News, congressional investigators who are examining the meeting are “focused on determining whether it included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party.” Foreigners donating to American elections is illegal
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has his work cut out for him. It’s pretty clear which one of Trump’s associates will be facing criminal indictments. But the question remains, if charges were to be found against President Trump and his associates, will Trump simply pardon everyone?
When it comes to the question of pardons, it appears that may get tricky in the case of Paul Manafort. Mueller’s cooperation with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is an indication that Manafort may be charged with a state crime. If that’s the case, Manafort can’t be pardoned since a president can’t pardon state-level crimes. If other Trump associates (or Trump himself) were to be implicated in state-level crimes, the same would apply to them. If the possibility of a presidential pardon were to be off the table, that could make Trump associates more likely to cooperate with investigators.
And when it comes to President Trump, as the law currently stands, the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled that a president can be charged while in office, so in order for Trump to be removed from office, he’d have to either be impeached or the 25th Amendment would have to be invoked. Given President Trump’s waning political capital and record low approval rating, it’s growing less likely that Republican representatives will protect him if Mueller finds criminal activity.
Let’s say Trump is found guilty of crimes and removed from office, could his successor pardon him? Yes. But if he’s charged with state-level crimes, then his successor could only pardon him for federal charges, and he would have to face whatever penalties those state-level charges may bring.
As Mueller’s investigation moves full speed ahead, we can expect President Trump to continue acting up. Chances are, when there’s a frantic paranoid tweet decrying the “Russia Hoax,” there’s a Robert Mueller move not far behind.