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One of the few certainties about the Russia scandal is that the news media keeps misunderestimating (to use one of Dubya's favorite words) what Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to do next and to whom. Exhibit A in this regard is Donald Trump's vulnerability.
It is widely assumed that Mueller can go after Trump for obstruction of justice, and some pundits correctly note that the special counsel has made a case for obstruction in spades. But for the most part, those same pundits do not believe Trump can be nailed for collusion (or conspiracy in criminal law-speak) because the evidence just isn't there or -- my favorite -- Trump is too inept to have pulled off something so sophisticated having proven daily as president that he is unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.
There is an element of truth to that because Trump has long subsisted if not thrived on chaos, but not as part of some existential theory of business and governance as some of us would believe, but because bulldozing his way through life -- and more recently pretending to lead a nation -- is how he compensates for his profound incompetence.
But as Salon's Heather Digby Parton notes, "it turns out Mueller can walk and chew gum at the same time," and he ain't buying the Trump as Dummy meme because he well knows that as a delusional narcissist, it always is all about him and his insatiable need for validation.
Despite an already full dance card, credible media reports indicate that the special prosecutor is not merely checking off boxes as he has branched out into these interrelated minefields:
Whether Trump knew about Russian election interference, including the intention to cybersabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign, and when he knew it.
Whether Trump knew about the hacking of Democratic emails and had a hand in their strategic release at a time when his campaign was foundering.
Whether Trump is being blackmailed as a result of decades of deal making with Russian businessmen, mobsters and money launderers.
I have always assumed that Trump's longtime fondness for Vladimir Putin and his absolute refusal to speak harshly of and deal firmly with Russia was not merely based on his well-evinced fondness for autocrats, but had considerably deeper and darker roots, the deepest and darkest of which is that his incompetence left him deeply vulnerable to Russian influence when his . . . uh, chaotic business empire was going under and he was desperate for cash and his . . . uh, chaotic presidential campaign was going under and he was desperate for help.
Politico's Jack Shafer, in analogizing on where Mueller is and where he is headed, notes that for the longest time, the special prosecutor's investigation looked like a backyard drainage ditch. There was a steady stream of witnesses and press speculation, but would it amount to anything real?
When was Mueller going to rent a hydraulic excavator and dig for real glory? After accepting the guilty pleas of Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, and spraying Paul Manafort with a few dozen indictments, the Mueller ditch had grown big enough to serve as a family plot. But dedicated followers of the scandal made no effort to hide their disappointment. Is this what prosecutorial dither looks like?
Then, two weeks ago, Mueller's modest ditch opened like a sinkhole as he filed an indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian entities for monkeying with the 2016 election. Last week, the maw yawned a little wider as Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates pleaded guilty to many of the charges also filed against Manafort and agreed to turn on him. The question today is no longer: When will the Mueller machine get going? Now, it’s: Who will escape Mueller’s big dig?As Shafer notes, Mueller knows more about working on the edge than any politician not currently in jail, and that's why we can expect his big dig to yield a new round of indictments against the Russians who hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and shared their booty via Comrade Assange at WikiLeaks, which was in regular touch with Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr., two extraordinary lightweights who who are but part of the existential threat the Russia scandal poses to the president.
Meanwhile, Mueller has branched out into examining the influence other countries have had on Trump's campaign and presidency.
This includes whether talks by the beleaguered Jared Kushner with foreigners about securing financing for his family's troubled real estate ventures influenced White House policy. Kushner, a senior adviser whose security clearance recently was downgraded and his in Mueller's crosshairs, spoke with potential investors from China, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as Russia.
George Nader, an adviser to the UAE with ties to Trump, was detained by FBI agents on January 17 at Washington Dulles Airport en route to Mar-a-Lago, where he planned to celebrate the president's first year in office. He was served with search warrants and a grand jury subpoena and his electronics seized. Nader is cooperating with Mueller, has given testimony about the influence of foreign money on Trump's political activities and acknowledged that he illegally funneled money into Trump's campaign.
Then there is Sam Nunberg, a close ally of Stone who was dismissed from the campaign in its early days when his racist tweets were revealed. Nunberg, in an extraordinary meltdown in a series of cable news interviews on Monday, vowed to defy a Mueller grand jury subpoena, dared the special prosecutor to arrest him, suggested that Trump may have worked with the Russians and knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 to get "dirt" on Clinton from a Putin ally.
This inevitably and deliciously leads us back to what Trump knew and what he and his campaign did with what he knew.
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and related events.