Tuesday December 4, 2018
Donald Trump outside the White House. Last week came the astounding revelation that Paul Manafort was acting as a double agent inside Robert Mueller’s office. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
What a catalogue of rogues – and what a tantalizing pile of clues. Surely we will soon know where all this leads
The rogues’ gallery exposed in Robert Mueller’s court filings last week make the Watergate burglars look positively classy.
Even veteran lawyers who were involved in the investigations of Richard Nixon say they’ve never seen this level of chicanery. Most importantly, last week’s events showed that Special Counsel Mueller is getting closer to exposing the scope and depth of it all. His most recent filings make clear that considerable evidence touches the president himself.
The disclosures from Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who is now a cooperating witness, drew the connection tighter. In his guilty plea to an additional charge of lying to Congress, Cohen revealed, and Trump confirmed, that the Trump Organization was pursuing a luxury skyscraper deal in Moscow while Donald Trump, identified as “Individual 1” in the latest court filings, was sewing up the Republican party presidential nomination.
As a candidate, Trump repeatedly reassured voters that he had no business dealings in Russia. But as he uttered those lies, he knew Cohen was planning to sell Russian kleptocrats $250m units in a future Trump Tower Moscow by luring Putin into the project with a free $50m spread. This was all unfolding as emails from Democratic officials, hacked by the Russians, disrupted the Democratic convention and the Republican party was making its party platform much kinder to Russia.
Trump tried to dismiss this Moscow real estate bombshell, saying it was fine for him to pursue his business affairs while running for president, because if he lost, he expected to return to the throne of the Trump Organization. Could this help Mueller close the circle of collusion between Trump and Russia?
Cohen had previously connected President Trump to payoffs made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, which may violate election law. But the additional guilty plea last week goes to the heart of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible links to Donald Trump.
Also last week came the astounding revelation that Paul Manafort was acting as a double agent inside Mueller’s office. After Manafort was convicted on multiple counts of bank and tax fraud related to the millions he was paid by Ukrainian clients, he cut a deal with Mueller before his second trial, agreeing to plead guilty and to cooperate with the special counsel. Instead of cooperating, turncoat Manafort was spying and tipping off the president’s lawyers about the prosecution’s areas of interest.
"Clownish though some of them seem, these men may hold some keys to Mueller’s investigation"
Manafort’s deal then went where it belonged, in the trash. Big jail time should be in store for him, but it is more than likely that he will receive a presidential pardon for being such a standup guy. “I wouldn’t take it off the table,” President Trump said in an Oval Office interview with the New York Post. “Why would I take it off the table?” Mafia dons often dangle protection to silence snitches. But this isn’t the mafia, it’s the White House.
It’s hard to imagine anything lower than what Manafort did. But also trotting on stage last week were the conspiracy-loving tag team of Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi. In a draft court filing related to a collapsed plea deal with Corsi, 72, Mueller also revealed that in email exchanges, Stone told Corsi to get hold of hacked emails from WikiLeaks and that the pair discussed optimum times to release them in order to damage Clinton’s candidacy. Stone and Corsi have ties to Alex Jones’s ultra-right conspiracy site, Infowars, and Corsi was the man behind the false birther campaign against Barack Obama and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a rightwing group that tried to besmirch John Kerry’s military record in his 2004 bid to become president. Stone is a trickster from way back (he even has a Nixon tattoo on his back). Stone and Corsi have both denied contacts with WikiLeaks.
Clownish though some of them seem, these men may hold some keys to Mueller’s investigation. And we have yet to hear from Michael Flynn, the Trump foreign policy adviser and short-lived national security adviser, who has also pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation and whose role in this muck is soon to be revealed in court. Though last week’s documents did not deal with the suspect meeting in Trump Tower during the campaign with a Russian lawyer claiming to have dirt on Clinton. Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr, were there and the meeting remains a subject of interest to Mueller.
What a tantalizing pile of clues. Surely, we will soon know where they lead.
During the Nixon years, a famous journalist, Jimmy Breslin, wrote two books. One was a novel about the mafia called The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, that I thought about as I watched Manafort et al trot across the television screen last week. He also wrote a book after Nixon resigned about the politicians who helped restore honesty and dignity to Washington. It was called How the Good Guys Finally Won. That one deserves a sequel.