Trump had his fun the night he beat Hillary . . . But the fun you had the night before ends up looking different in the morning. And right now, it’s morning in Bob Mueller’s America. ~ LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV
After four months in the saddle, we are able to make some educated guesses about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal: He has ample evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin's election sabotage operatives. He has ample evidence that Donald Trump himself was not only aware of but approved of the collusion and sabotage, although this is merely another of the crimes against decency that he has committed over a long and sordid career and not necessarily a crime in the legal sense. But Mueller does seem to have Trump cold on obstructing justice and that may be what hastens the end of his presidency and the nightmare he has visited on America.
Why can investigators be so certain that there was collusion? Because of what's not there.
There was a time when the extent of the scandal was not yet obvious and it didn't seem particularly strange that the future president's advisers were having contacts with people with Russian government connections. But now that the extent of Putin's efforts to throw the election to Trump is well known and copiously documented, the suspiciousness of those interactions is screamingly obvious for the simple reason that while there were numerous contacts with Russians (The Washington Post lists some 15), no overtures were made to China, Germany or any other major global player.
Then there are Trump's long-standing obsessions with shutting down the investigation, which he continues to claim is a witch hunt based on fake news, and kissing Putin's ring at every opportunity while refusing to say anything negative about America's greatest foe.
Insofar as obstruction of justice, here is where Mueller might have the goods on Trump:
Trump fired his national security adviser on February 13 only three weeks into his presidency, ostensibly because of leaked stories -- that he had lied to Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and that the White House had been warned that Flynn, who already was under investigation by the FBI, was liable to being blackmailed by Russian collaborators.
The day after Trump fired Flynn, he pulled then-FBI Director James Comey aside and asked him to "let" the Flynn investigation "go," as well as subsequently made other attempts, both directly and through aides, to quash the Russia investigation.
FIRST COMEY FIRING LETTER
On May 9, Trump fired Comey based on a letter drafted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that claimed Comey had botched the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, but an earlier letter had been drafted by aide Stephen Miller providing the real reason Comey was getting the ax -- the Russia investigation.
White House counsel Don McGahn made numerous deletions and comments to and on that draft, and if he counseled the president that the letter could create legal liability for him, as seems to be the case, that would be powerful obstruction evidence.
OVAL OFFICE MEETING
On May 10, Trump met with Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, telling them that "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. . . . I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
Shortly after Trump fired Comey and Rosenstein appointed Mueller, Trump angrily confronted Attorney General Sessions, calling him an "idiot" and demanding his resignation because of appointment of the special counsel, which Sessions was powerless to block because he had been forced to recuse himself because of his own meetings with Kislyak.
The intensity of Trump's reaction reflects how deeply he cared about losing control of the Russia investigation, which he effectively had with Mueller's appointment.
DONALD JR. MEETING
There were extensive internal administration deliberations involving the president over his son's June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians with intelligence backgrounds who said they could provide official Russian government dirt on Clinton. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended.
After news of the meeting broke in July of this year, Trump Sr. drafted a highly misleading statement for his son about the purpose of the meeting in an obvious effort to cover up its real purpose.
These encounters are five of 13 areas in which Mueller has asked the White House for further information, including documents and internal memos.
Meanwhile, there is evidence some of the damaging leaks about Manafort in recent days came from the White House, which may mean there's a strategy in play to try to make Trump's former campaign manager a fall guy and Trump a victim.
|SAM HODGSON / THE NEW YORK TIMES|
What Mueller is able to do with all of this is another matter.
There is, for example, no legal meaning to the term "Russian collusion," so Flynn and Manafort, to name two of the biggest perps, would not be charged as a group that participated in a big, bad conspiracy. Nor can a sitting president be indicted, in the view of most legal scholars.
So where does this leave the special counsel? Here's where:
To make the case in a report to Congress that the president obstructed justice and is legally liable for impeachment, which is a political process.
This would require the votes of a Republican House majority and the votes of at least 19 Senate Republicans and all Democrats to convict, which at this point remains an abstraction with Republicans firmly in control and still needing Trump to help enact their legislative agenda.
To make the case before a federal judge that as individuals these players broke federal law and should be indicted, which is a criminal process.
This could involve a range of charges, including criminal liability, breaking tax and banking laws, failure to register as an agent of a foreign government, lying on security clearance forms, and making misleading statements, which seem more likely to succeed than impeachment.
Mueller's mandate is broad under the order appointing him.
Once he decides to ask for an indictment, his Washington grand jury would vote on whether to approve it (the votes of only 12 of the 16 grand jurors are required to indict) using the standard of probable cause. He does not need Department of Justice approval.
What all this could mean is that at the end of the day -- and we're probably talking 2017, folks -- Mueller may end up with indictments unrelated to Russia's election meddling and the campaign's role in that meddling. He would then have to be content with nailing Flynn and Manafort for their sleazy business dealings with Russia as well as the Trump Organization for its financial dealings with Russians.
In other words, a crippling but not devastating blow to the Trump presidency unless Flynn, Manafort or other possibly indicted players (Kushner and Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen come to mind) can be flipped by Mueller.
All that noted, the reality of Russia's efforts to meddle in the election and Trump's refusal to acknowledge even that have been on a collision course for well over a year.
On Friday, Trump's Department of Homeland Security notified election officials in 21 states that they had been targeted by Russian government hackers. This was a far cry from candidate Trump's claim last September that Clinton was playing Chicken Little.
"I don't think anyone knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC," he had declared after it was confirmed that it indeed was Russian government hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails that he was using as a cudgel to put Clinton on the defensive.
"She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia," he added. "I mean it could be Russia, but it also could be China. It also could be lots of other people. It could be somebody sitting on their bed that weights 400 pounds, OK?"
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.