|HYPNOART / PIXABAY|
There no longer is any question that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shared a vision although they ruled empires nearly 5,000 miles apart.
And that Trump's campaign colluded with Putin to help make him president because the billionaire New York real estate mogul and reality television star wanted even more money and power while the autocratic Russian president wanted even more power and influence and would do whatever it took to return the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory by undermining America's standing as the sole surviving superpower. Like sabotaging Hillary Clinton's campaign through cyber espionage because he believed that a President Trump would do his bidding.
Is there any question that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has made this connection? No.
Has Mueller found or knows where to find prosecutable evidence of that connection? Yes.
And where would that be?
It would be the mastermind that instructed the hackers and Internet trolls who were the foot soldiers in Putin's cyber war against Clinton where to target Facebook ads and email bot barrages with fake news stories, as well as set up phony Facebook and Twitter accounts to further disseminate anti-Clinton propaganda.
These targets notably included three nominally blue swing states where there the mastermind's minions found unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton. It was there that these hackers and trolls unleashed fussilades of fake news, anti-Clinton hashtags and repeatedly linked back to DCLeaks, a website run by Russian intelligence that posted emails that Russian hackers had stolen from the Clinton campaign.
These fake stories included Clinton's role in a pedophile ring being run out of a Washington pizzeria, that the Google search engine was suppressing anti-Clinton news, that Clinton and Barack Obama were founders of the Islamic State, and that Clinton would start World War III over Syria.
Because Russian hackers would have no idea what voters to target in which states, there can be only one source for their cyber onslaught: The Trump campaign's digital team, which was headed by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or possibly an intermediary working with the Russians at the team's direction.
Trump was aware of the fake-news operation.
As the presidential race heated up and polls showed Trump trailing Clinton, he shamelessly promoted several of the more explosive fake-news stories in sync with the hackers and trolls. These included the phony Google search engine, Clinton-Obama-ISIS and World War III stories.
A key -- if not the key -- to Trump's shocking victory may have been Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three nominally blue swing states where Trump's digital team spotted unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton. As a consequence, voters in certain election districts in those states were inundated with fake news.
Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million cast and with them ceded 46 precious Electoral College votes to Trump. This gave him 34 more electoral votes than the 270 needed to be elected, although he fell nearly 3 million votes short in the popular vote.
Clinton would have won the Electoral College outright by a 275-248 electoral vote margin had a mere 5,353 Trump voters in Michigan gone for her instead, as well as 22,147 in Pennsylvania and 11,375 in Wisconsin.
Gary Coby, a Trump campaign digital team member and director of advertising for the Republican Party, brags that Facebook and its refined audience targeting tools were vital to Trump becoming president because the campaign was so adept at using data about potential Trump voters to reach them, particularly through social media.
"So if you are on Facebook, I can then match you and put you into a bucket of users that I can then target," Coby told BBC News. "The way we bought media on Facebook was like no one else in politics has ever done."
"On any given day . . . the campaign was running 40,000 to 50,000 variants of its ads," Coby told Wired magazine. "On the day of the third presidential debate in October, the team ran 175,000 variations."
Of all the subsidiary Russia scandal players, Kushner is the dirtiest, as well as most dangerous, and his pivotal role as head of the campaign's digital team has drawn the scrutiny of Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees. As has Kushner's hiring of Brad Parscale, a San Antonio-based digital expert who had worked for the Trump Organization and was paid $90 million by the campaign for his work targeting those key states, among others. Parscale could be that campaign-Russia intermediary and is expected to appear before Mueller's investigative grand jury.
Meanwhile, attention to the role Facebook and Twitter played indirectly will increase pressure on Trump, who continues to call the scandal a hoax and witch hunt.
The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance reform group, accuses Facebook of being used as an "accomplice" in the Russia election meddling effort and is urging company chairman Mark Zuckerberg to reverse his position and publicly release secretly-sponsored Russian political ads.
As it is, I happen to know a woman who fell for the fake-news barrage.
She is a highly-educated registered Democrat, has a high-powered job and would seem to be too intelligent to not have succumbed to decades of anti-Clinton hype, including the evergreen that she murdered Vince Foster, Bill Clinton's deputy White House counsel, and then be hoodwinked all over again by the Trump cyber juggernaut.
But on Election Day, she wrote in a prominent national Democrat on her ballot rather than voting for Clinton because she believed the fake news, and being a Jew was especially aggrieved about a fake news story that financier George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew and Holocaust survivor was secretly working with Clinton to undermine the Netanyahu regime in Israel.
And so it went.
Even without the dirt that Gary Coby so proudly dished, the amount of evidence Mueller has amassed proving that Russia worked to throw the election to Trump with the help of his campaign is staggering.§
Mueller is "going for the kill," in the words of one Republican with close ties to the White House, an assessment based on but not limited to evidence the special prosecutor has gathered about key members of Trump's inner circle -- Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort -- meeting with Russians with impressive Kremlin-related intelligence credentials at Trump Tower in June 2016 with the expectation they would provide damaging information on Clinton from an official Russian government source.
And that the Grand Panjandrum himself was aware of the meeting because his eldest son consulted with him about it and he overruled aides to personally direct that a misleading statement be issued concerning its purpose.
From what we have been able to glean, Mueller's investigation is proceeding on three tracks:
* The original reason for the investigation -- the possibility of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign -- which includes the June 2016 meeting, among others, and assistance the campaign directly or indirectly gave hackers in their targeting of voters with fake news through Facebook and Twitter.
* Whether Trump himself obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey under incontestably false pretenses, among his other actions to sabotage the investigations, and then has sought to undermine Mueller's investigation by claiming he has conflicts of interest and his investigation is a political vendetta.
* Whether finance and banking law violations are uncovered amidst the wealth of information now known about Trump's extensive financial wheelings and dealings with oligarchs and money launderers with ties to Putin beginning in the late 1990s when he was deeply in debt and couldn't get loans from U.S. banks.
Trump's departure can be hastened by impeachment for so-called high crimes and misdemeanors or invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for replacement of a president who is judged to be mentally unfit, but these scenarios remain abstractions despite the wealth of information showing that Trump is both a crook and mentally unfit.
Republican Representative Duncan Hunter of California, who was an early and loyal Trump enthusiast, gave this unflinching assessment of Trump: "He’s an asshole, but he's our asshole."
This pretty much leaves resignation as the only alternative, and I continue to believe that criminal indictments against family members might push Trump in that direction if not completely out the door.
Trump warned Mueller in late July that he would be crossing a "red line" if the special prosecutor scrutinized the finances of the president and his family. But Mueller motored right past that line in teaming up with the IRS's criminal investigations unit, which specializes in uncovering crimes such as tax evasion and money laundering.
"They will quickly tell you that it took an accountant to nab Al Capone, and it's true" noted Martin Sheil, a former agent in the unit.
Then again, maybe it will be some Facebook posts.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.