|THE NEW YORK TIMES|
“Why would there be?” ~ Vice President Pence’s reply when asked whether
there had been any contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.
At this point, we probably know more about the Russia scandal than we don't. That goes for Mike Pence, too.
We know that at least 17 Donald Trump campaign officials and advisers had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks.
We also know that six of those officials and advisers have been charged criminally by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
We further know that prosecutors have obtained three sentencings, one conviction at trial, seven guilty pleas and charges for a total of 199 criminal counts.
We suspect that despite fevered speculation to the contrary, Mueller is not wrapping up his 22-month probe and may be tying various investigative threads together to cement a conspiracy case.
But the scandal is riddled with riddles, as would any criminal enterprise so vast and with so many actors. Among the weightier riddles are these:
* The name of Felix Sater (photo, above) constantly pops up as Trump's former business partner, convicted stock swindler and sometime FBI informant with Russian mob ties who tried to get a Trump Tower Moscow deal and helped broker a Ukrainian "peace plan" in return for Trump lifting sanctions.
Whose side is Sater on? Will it turn out that for all of his bad behavior, he has been a secret ally of Mueller's?
* Speaking of Putin, what does the Russian leader have on Trump? Beyond the salacious if unproven Moscow Pee Tape allegation, there are suggestions that he has the president under his thumb because of a range of possibilities, including illegal financial dealings to hard evidence of his collusion.
Is there an alternative explanation as to why Trump seems to be in Putin's thrall?
* Putin pal Oleg Deripaksa's private jet arrived at Newark's Liberty International Airport shortly after midnight on August 3, 2016, hours after Paul Manafort and Rick Gates turned over sensitive campaign polling data to suspected Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik.
Did Kilimnik travel on the oligarch's jet? What did happen -- and does it matter?
* Hillary Clinton lost the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes. She would have won the Electoral College if relatively few Trump voters in these states who possibly were pinpoint targeted by Russian bots, had voted for her instead.
From whom did the Russians glean the targeting information? Was Cambridge Analytica involved?
* There is a mysterious person mentioned in a document filed by prosecutors identified only as having a seven-character name who had dealings with former Trump campaign manager Manafort in regards to an aspect of the investigation that remains secret.
Who is this person, and did Manafort lie about him in breeching his plea agreement to protect this key player?
* Alfa Bank and Deutsche Bank may play roles in the scandal, Alfa because of suspicious interactions between its computer servers and a Trump server during the campaign and money-laundering Deutsche because it kept loaning tons of money to Trump when no other bank would give him a cent.
Then there is the foreign state-owned mystery bank jousting with Mueller. Is any of this bank stuff a big deal?
* Mueller also is investigating the extent to which several Middle Eastern countries -- Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel -- sought to influence the Trump campaign and presidential transition to position themselves for insider access to the new administration.
Will Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has commingled business dealings with those countries and his official duties, be indicted?
* Why was Mariia Butina being held in solitary confinement in the Alexandria (Va.) Detention Center and at one point was moved to a smaller and more meagerly equipped solitary cell? Did she and boyfriend Paul Erickson direct money to the Trump campaign through the National Rifle Association?
Might Butina and Erickson really be chumps and not a Russian spy and lover tandem as prosecutes allege in an arguably weak case?
Despite all the convictions, indictments and charges, Mueller has yet to provide proof of a conspiracy or cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russians, let alone a hands-on role for the Obesity in Chief, but that could change when these riddles become clear.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.