Last week’s blog (“The Plot thickens; 6-10-17) sketched out the battle lines that were then draw, pitting Trump and his administration against Special Prosecutor (SP) Robert Mueller. Today’s publication advances that narrative as more recent events begin to delineate what is at stake and who is at risk.
Trump vs. Mueller
What has started to emerge is a case for obstruction of justice with 45 at its’ center: The allegation is that the president fired FBI Director James Comey in an effort to impede or effectively kill the investigation of collusion between Trump’s administration and Russia to affect our 2016 election. Various legal minds have opined that there is already sufficient prima facie evidence to haul 45 before a grand jury on a charge of obstruction. But such a scenario becomes academic since no president can be charged with a crime. The point then, is that Mueller’s case has already gathered strength and may grow stronger.
For his part, 45 has declared that the investigation of collusion is over so how can there possibly be any obstructing of a concluded matter? Of course, the probe of a cozy relationship between Trump and/or members of his administration and Russia is far from over much as Trump would like it to be.
Team Trump and Russia
If there is one of 45’s associates that is key to the collusion story, it’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. He had at least two known meetings with Russian officials and money changed hands. Whether legally or illegally has yet to be publicly documented.
Another possible player in the collusion story is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has already been caught lying under oath about contacts that he had with various Russians, and there is an emerging story that those sorts of contacts may have even more numerous than had previously been known. If SP Mueller’s focus expands to take in Sessions, it will be huge “tell” if the latter hires a criminal defense attorney.
Were all this not enough, there is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has now become a subject of interest to the SP because of business dealings with a Russian bank that Kushner never reported, a fact that poses a legal problem for the young man.
Pence “lawyers up”
VP Mike Pence has decided that he also needs legal representation and so has hired a criminal defense attorney. While there is no evidence that the Veep had anything to do with alleged collusion, he got himself “dirtied up” by not only failing to vet the tarred Michael Flynn, but by turning a blind eye on warnings from the FBI that Flynn was a high risk pick as National Security Advisor. The potential problem here is one of malfeasance.
Fraud and money laundering
In all probability, any such crimes will prove to be unrelated to collusion though they may well involve at least one person who was close to the Trump campaign; i.e. Paul Manafort. Manafort had some questionable dealings with at least one member of the Ukrainian kleptocracy that was closely linked to Putin and Moscow.
Not only has “the plot thickened”, it has substantially widened in its scope. Look at the progression: what started out as an investigation into Russia’s meddling in our election has expanded to now involve collusion (Trump? Flynn? Sessions?), malfeasance (Pence?), illegal and unreported contacts (Kushner? Sessions?), fraud and money laundering (Manafort?). Mueller has the authority to dig into all of this much to the chagrin of 45 who has already shown signs that he may try to find some indirect means of deposing the SP (1).
If Trump were to act on that impulse, he would push this entire matter into what we can call “Watergate territory”. That scandal, that brought down the Nixon presidency and sent over a dozen of his cohorts to jail, involved obstruction of justice and the firing of a SP. Trump supporters in and out of government are warning 45 to not go there. Will he listen? Time will tell. But the prediction here is that as Mueller’s case gains still more strength and looks ever more likely to damage the Trump presidency, 45 will give in to his darker and irrational side and strike out against the SP. In that event, this whole mess will take on a distinctly more noxious odor.
- The president cannot act directly to fire Mueller. He will have to find someone in government to do that for him; possibly Deputy AG Ron Rosenstein or someone else in the Justice Department.