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By Jonathan Peter Schwartz

Policy Summary
Several revelatory developments emerged this week in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. To be sure, they hardly reveal the full scope of what special counsel Robert Mueller and his team may know, but, taken together, they offer big clues to what Mueller will eventually report.

The week began with the collapse of the cooperation agreement between Paul Manafort and the special counsel’s office. Prosecutors for the special counsel accused Manafort of lying during his cooperation interviews about “a variety of subject matters.” The filing notified the court that any promises made to Manafort concerning leniency in his sentencing were voided. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Manafort could not withdraw his guilty plea. The special counsel can also proceed to try Manafort on a variety of further charges beyond those he has already been convicted of.

Most commentators found the logic of Manafort’s alleged perjury perplexing. It is possible that Manafort was telling the truth—this was his lawyers’ response to the filing—but few commenters found this possibility believable. The filing was especially definitive in its language, suggesting prosecutors have strong corroborating evidence for their allegations. This leaves only a few possible explanations for his behavior. Most concluded that Manafort must have received assurances of a presidential pardon. Speaking on Wednesday, Trump did nothing to tamp down this speculation, suggesting that pardoning Manafort was not “off the table.”

Wednesday brought further evidence of this possibility as Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, acknowledged that Manafort’s legal team continued to brief Trump’s team about Manafort’s testimony to Mueller after the cooperation agreement. Manafort did this without informing the special counsel’s office, and Giuliani seemed to relish having outflanked the prosecution. Legal experts seemed to agree that Manafort and the Trump team’s actions were not illegal, but that they again raise serious ethical and political questions, especially as it relates to the question potential presidential pardons. However, some commentators suggested that this activity could add further evidence for a case of criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice on the part of Trump and his associates.

This possibility was given further support when Giuliani confirmed on Wednesday that Jerome Corsi, who is also a target of the Mueller probe, had entered into a joint defense agreement with Trump’s legal team. Corsi, a conservative conspiracy theorist, has been thought to be a peripheral character in this drama. It became evident on Tuesday, however, that his role in Russia’s 2016 election sabotage was now of crucial interest to the special counsel’s investigators. Corsi’s connection to the Trump campaign appears to have been based on his relationship with Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone, a long-time friend of Trump and business partner of Manafort, who is widely viewed as potentially a key figure in facilitating any cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian interference. Specifically, Stone appeared to have had prior knowledge of Russia’s email hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, whose emails were later released by Wikileaks at a key moment in the presidential campaign (during the controversy over Trump’s Access Hollywood video). When asked by the House Intelligence Committee about his advance knowledge of the Podesta emails, Stone’s explanation was that he had simply guessed on the basis of informal research.

However, on Tuesday Corsi shared with several news services draft documents of a plea deal with the special counsel’s office that he was about to reject. The potential plea agreement reveals that Mueller has evidence suggesting Stone and Corsi acted as facilitators and backchannels for apparent coordination between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks, who appeared to be working in tandem with the Russian Intelligence services who hacked Podesta and the Democratic National Committee’s emails.

Specifically, the special counsel has apparently gained possession of emails exchanged between Stone and Corsi during the summer of 2016 in which they appeared to be facilitating coordination between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks via its founder, Julian Assange. The emails show Corsi having contacted an intermediary who shortly after met with Assange. Corsi then conveyed the results of the meeting to Stone, whom the document claims was at the time in regular contact with members of the Trump campaign, “including then-candidate Donald J. Trump.” Stone has also admitted to this contact during summer 2016.

There were also reports of further collaboration between Trump associates and Wikileaks. Specifically, the Guardian reported on Tuesday that Manafort secretly visited Assange on several occasions prior to his joining the Trump campaign. Manafort vehemently denied the report, threatening The Guardian with libel litigation. Manafort’s intense response may be related to the possibility that the special counsel appears to have begun probing whether such a meeting took place according to reporting by Carl Bernstein.  

Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress seemed to view these events in crisis mode. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell squashed the possibility of legislation geared toward protecting the Mueller probe from interference from Trump and his recently installed acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker. This is in spite of  recent bipartisan indications of support, including that of Senate majority whip, John Cornyn. Trump, on the other hand, spent the past three days lambasting Robert Mueller over Twitter. And perhaps with good reason, as reports indicate that Trump was explicitly asked by Mueller in written questions whether he had prior knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting between his son, Trump-campaign officials and Russian operatives, and whether Roger Stone told him of the Wikileaks email dumps beforehand.  

Analysis
Mueller appears to be closing in on Trump and other key figures in his orbit. We can hardly know for sure whether anything illegal was done in relation to the Russian sabotage campaign by the Trump campaign or Trump himself, but the evidence is mounting. Trump himself seems unhinged when it comes to Mueller, and has taken actions, such as installing a political hack and lacky as acting attorney general a day after the midterm elections or attempting to prosecute his political enemies on a whim, that are audaciously corrupt.

There is a growing body of evidence that he and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have orchestrated a wide-ranging coverup of what occurred in the summer of 2016. This is not speculation or conspiracy theory; this is the only possible conclusion that can be drawn from the known facts as gleaned from authoritative reporting and a special counsel investigation backed by the full force of the federal government (excluding, of course, the White House).  

Every American has an interest in determining the truth of these claims. Hopefully, there really was not conspiracy between Donald Trump, his campaign and Russia and other anti-American actors. But if where’s smoke, there’s fire, the available facts suggest it is getting awfully hazy at the White House.

Resistance Resources

  • ACLU has worked for almost 100 years to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
  • Protect the Investigation is a non-partisan initiative to educate the American people about the importance of the special counsel investigation and its current findings.
  • Propublica exposes abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.
  • Law Works engages bipartisan voices and educates the public on the importance of the rule of law, the role of the special counsel in the justice system, and the integrity of our judicial institutions.
  • Nobody is Above the Law is a clearinghouse for organizing events to protect the Mueller probe.
  • Stand Up America is an organization born after the outpouring of resistance to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. They are committed to providing you with the information you need to take impactful action and make your voice heard.

This brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS environment/at-large policy analyst Jonathan Peter Schwartz: Jonathan@usresistnews.org

Photo by roya ann miller

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