Sheila Markin is a former Assistant US Attorney. She helps people to understand in plain English what is going on in US politics today. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post!
NOTE: Content from this post is featured in the opinion section of the Detroit Free Press, Sunday, April 8, 2018
The Mueller investigation does not leak. Unlike the White House, the House Intel Committee, John Kelly or Trump himself (who talks all the time by phone to his buddies who freely tell the press what was said), the FBI and DOJ are not leaking information about the investigation being conducted by Mueller and his team. But Mueller is talking to us. He is telling us important information and rebutting Trump’s comments and those of Fox News as well. He is speaking to us through the various court documents that are being filed. He is teaching and telling us important information.
What is he trying to tell us?
In the plea entered into by the ex-Skadden lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, Mueller is, first and foremost setting up an insistence on the facts and the truth. Truth has become a game in the era of Trump and Fox News, Alex Jones and conspiracy theorists. Mueller, however, is insisting on factual truth. No games here. Truth is not fuzzy. There is no alternate reality. You tell the truth, or you end up in jail. That is lesson number one.
And there are other lessons and messages from Mueller in this guilty plea. Mueller rebuts the chatter from Fox News and other sources that there is no “collusion” or nexus between the Trump campaign and Russians connected with the GRU, the Russian secret service. Nestled in the guilty plea, Mueller somewhat gratuitously tells us that Manafort and Gates were interacting with a foreign agent who is not specifically named but appears to be Kliminck, a Russian operative who has been identified in other sourcing as a Russian intelligence agent. The argument that there is no “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russians is destroyed once you understand what Mueller is telling us.
What else are we learning from Mueller in his “teachings” that are part of the judicial public filings we can all read? He tells us that if Trump gets rid of Mueller we do not need to worry. Special prosecutors will continue the investigation. I see that as a kind of “neener neener” to Trump and the Republicans and their ever-looming threat to get rid of Mueller if he gets too nosy about Trump’s business dealings. Mueller is saying – “You can get rid of me but like Arnold Schwartzenegger on steroids the investigation will still be coming for you and you will not be any safer for having dumped me.”
What else do we get to learn? We learn that Rob Rosenstein approved the expansion of the investigation into Manafort’s money laundering and that other federal agencies got involved as well, because the Tax Division signed off on the charging document and Manafort’s failure to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act was signed off on by that special division.
Why does this matter? Because Manafort and other Trump allies have been arguing that Mueller has gone beyond the scope of his original mandate for the investigation, that Mueller needs to be curbed so that he stays within those original parameters. Manafort is actually suing the special counsel asking a civil court to rein Mueller in and limit him. Mueller is responding “I am within my parameters, you have no case. Get outta here. Oh, and by-the-way, you are going down.” For most of the charges alleged so far, Mueller does not even need to call one fact witness to testify. The cases can be made by introducing documents. Once the documents are in evidence, game over. This is a slam dunk life sentence for Manafort unless he decides to cooperate. Or Trump pardons him – and if that happens it creates another path for prison via the New York A G who can charge for even more criminal violations than Mueller can. Trump does not have the pardon power for those charges stateside. Manafort might prefer to go to a nice federal prison compared to Rikkers Island. What Mueller is saying to Manafort and everyone else is this – if you cooperate, your future life will be much better. If you don’t, we will have a slam dunk case on you. We are not fooling around here.
And there is more. We have learned that Trump is not a target. He is a subject of the investigation. Trump is giddy with excitement about this, we hear. He probably thinks that if he is not a target, he should be able to go in and have a nice friendly conversation with Mueller and beat this rap. And maybe that is so. Maybe Trump himself was the patsy and the Russians got players like Manafort and Flynn to invade and infect the campaign and poor little innocent Trump was unaware of it all. Maybe Trump’s intent was not to obstruct justice when he fired Comey. Maybe he was motivated by something other than a desire to end this Russia thing. (Although he did say that to Lester Holt on national TV, right?) But I find it hard to believe that Trump was motivated by something other than a deep-seated need to get this monkey off his back. And the part that keeps returning as a problem for me when I try to imagine Trump as the innocent surrounded by evildoers who are linked with the Russians unbeknownst to him, is that Trump has never ever said anything the least bit not nice about Vladimir Putin. There is something so fishy there that it smells like a pile of dead smelts and it keeps getting smellier and smellier every day.
And one more thing. It’s possible, just possible that Mueller understands Trump’s psychology well enough to put out this little tidbit of cheese for this rat. “Come on in. You’re not a target.” For a man who is as narcissistic as Trump, who actually believes the lies he spews every day, it could be an irresistible temptation for Trump who is eager to yell about how innocent he is and grandiose enough to think that he can get away with his version of the truth. And if not, he probably thinks he can get Fox and Friends, Sean Hannity, the Republicans on the Hill and the loyal 35-40% base of his to scream bloody murder “It was a witch hunt!” “It was the deep state!” Of course, the reason Trump is not a designated target may also be because Mueller is going to abide by the DOJ guidelines about not indicting a sitting president. If that is his thinking, Trump would not be a target, per se, but a report would be written by Mueller’s team that details the evidence against the president and that would go to Rosenstein who would then submit it to Congress. Congress has the power to impeach which is the only way to rid this country of a sitting president.
Personally, that is where I think this drama is heading. And when we get there we will probably be facing a fight for the soul of our democracy. Because we are going to find out if we are still a country that believes in the truth and facts, or a country that is willing to be duped by the alternative reality spin of Trump and his allies.
The former lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, had admitted lying to investigators about his communications with a Trump campaign aide and a Ukrainian with ties to Russian…