April 7, 2020

Hunting Witches

By Stephen Tuttle | Nov. 11, 2017

Let's check in and see how Special Counsel Robert Mueller's “witch hunt” into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is going.

We have to start by acknowledging the Russians did interfere. The CIA, NSA, FBI and all additional intelligence and law enforcement agencies that have investigated agree that's a fact. They also agree it was an effort to assist Donald Trump's campaign by attacking Hillary Clinton. Only President Trump and his most mesmerized followers remain doubtful. 

We already know who directed the meddling and even the street address in Moscow from which much of it was done. We know they hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton, and her campaign manager, then shared what they'd stolen through Wikileaks and other outlets. We know they created false social media accounts and websites through which they disseminated anti-Clinton disinformation. We know they took out ads on social media under fake names. We know they planted false stories.

We know all of that to be true. We do not know if the Trump campaign or any of its minions cooperated or colluded with the Russian efforts. That question is the basis of the Mueller investigation. 

Collusion requires an agreement between two or more parties — it can be as simple as a nod of the head — to engage in various nefarious activities. In this case it would mean the Trump campaign, or someone in the Trump campaign, made some sort of agreement, tacit or explicit, with Russians to interfere in the election. That would be a felonious no-no. 

So far, Mueller's team of nearly two dozen investigators have zeroed in on the early days of the campaign. They didn't find evidence of collusion, but they are alleging a host of financial and other crimes were committed by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Trump campaign advisor and Manafort business partner Rick Gates.

Manafort and Gates both face a dozen felony charges, including a money laundering charge that alone could result in a 20-year prison sentence. Though the alleged wrongdoing involved Russians, and both had extensive business with Russians, it is not clear there was any connection to the campaign interference. 

More interesting is the case of little-known George Papadopolous, a minor Trump campaign adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation. It is clear Papadopolous had significant contacts with the Russians, attempted to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump, and was more involved with the campaign than Trump would like us to believe. 

We also know Papadopolous and Trump met at least once and chatted for a few minutes. Trump, who has said more than once he has “one of the greatest memories” says he doesn't remember it. (And, no, holding a grudge doesn't constitute a great memory.)

Michael Flynn, who was Trump's choice to be his National Security Advisor for about 15 seconds, is a likely next target. He also has all manner of entanglements with Russia and the Ukraine, and he wasn't honest about them on disclosure forms. A retired general, Flynn is an unlikely candidate to collude with the Russians, something he would surely see as a treasonous act. His loudmouth son, also in the Mueller crosshairs, might be less careful. 

This is how these things work, from the fringes inward. Some players get swept up for various shenanigans not always completely related to the original investigation. Maybe one or more of them, like perhaps George Papadopolous, will provide useful information rather than face prison time. The inquiry moves in ever-tightening concentric circles until it either runs out of evidence or gets to the center.  

Mueller has enormous power, and if there was collusion, he and his team are likely to find it. They are more likely to find other inappropriate business entanglements with the Russians. Trump, his sons, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, all have done or attempted to do various deals with the Russians, including borrowing significant money to help finance Trump golf courses.

None of that constitutes collusion in anything campaign-related, but the cozy relationships are a bit too much for Mueller to ignore. There is a theory floating that it's those business deals Trump most fears being exposed.

Trump surely believes something will be exposed because his response to the investigation has been odd. If he has done nothing, he should welcome Mueller and his team by fully cooperating in every way. Likewise, he should be anxious to rid himself of any wrongdoers from his campaign team, swamp drainer that he is. Pretty straightforward, in theory, anyway. 

We already know what happened. The Mueller investigation, labeled a “witch hunt” by the president, is trying to discover who was involved — and if any of the witches they're hunting worked for candidate Trump. 



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