Russia investigation: Is Mueller zeroing in on collusion?
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “closing in” on President Trump, said Jill Abramson in TheGuardian.com. A flurry of bombshell court filings last week drew the most explicit connections between Trump and Russia we’ve seen so far. Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a potential deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In order to protect the president, Cohen initially told congressional investigators that the Trump Organization stopped pursuing the deal in January 2016. He now admits the company’s outreach to Russia continued through June, well into the presidential campaign. Meanwhile, Trump was lavishly praising Putin, pledging to forge friendlier ties with Russia—a key strategic goal for Putin—while adamantly insisting, “I have ZERO investments in Russia.’’ During that same period, Russian hackers provided WikiLeaks with a trove of stolen emails intended to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. A draft court filing released last week revealed that in August 2016, long-time Trump buddy Roger Stone pushed right-wing author Jerome Corsi to “get’’ the emails from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Corsi soon emailed back to say, “Word is friend in embassy [Assange] plans 2 more dumps… Impact planned to be very damaging.’’ The very next day, Stone and Trump spoke on the phone. Soon after, WikiLeaks began its first email dump. If Trump knew about those stolen emails in advance and cheered their release, it means he was complicit in a foreign conspiracy to influence the presidential election. That would “make the Watergate burglars look positively classy.”
Dream on, said Matthew Walther in TheWeek.com. After nearly two years of hunting, Mueller “has ensnared much small game but no large mammals.” Thanks to Mueller’s efforts, we know that Trump surrounded himself with liars, tax cheats, and other shady characters. What we haven’t seen is solid evidence that Trump actually colluded with the Russian government. The revelation that Trump nurtured a pipe dream of building a luxury skyscraper in Moscow means little, especially since it never went anywhere. Yet once again, said Eddie Scarry in WashingtonExaminer.com, Trump’s critics breathlessly tell us that we’ve reached a “turning point,” that the “walls are closing in” or “the noose is tightening.” They’ve been using these same clichés for a year now. Wake me when Mueller actually comes up with something.
You’re not paying attention, said Conor Friedersdorf in TheAtlantic.com. All along, the Kremlin has known it could expose Trump for lying about his attempt to build a Trump tower in Moscow—giving Russia blackmail leverage over America’s president. “Elected officials have resigned in disgrace for less serious transgressions.” Trump defenders dismiss every revelation about the Trump team’s dozens of Russian contacts as “low-level shenanigans,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. “Trump himself,’’ the defenders say, “has nothing to fear.” If that’s true, why has Trump lied over and over to cover up those contacts? Why did he fire then–FBI Director James Comey for pursuing the investigation and then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from it? Why is he still dangling a pardon for former campaign manager Paul Manafort, when that offer will become part of Mueller’s obstruction of justice case? The president’s lying and obstruction makes no sense—“unless Trump is, in fact, guilty.”
Collusion or not, Trump’s conduct was “unacceptable,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Trump repeatedly praised Putin during his presidential campaign, doubling the autocrat’s approval rating among Republicans. All the while, Americans never knew that Trump was trying to make millions off a hostile foreign power. “That’s intolerable.” Up to now, I’ve been a skeptic about Russian collusion, said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. But the coincidences are becoming too much to overlook. Not long after Corsi tipped off Stone about the upcoming WikiLeaks dump, he passed on advice that Trump should start talking about Clinton’s health. “And Trump did.’’ Add to that possible quid pro quos between Putin and Trump, and it’s starting to look as if Muller “just might have a case.”
My conservative friends who’ve elected to defend Trump had better prepare themselves “for what Mueller may find,’’ said Matt Lewis in TheDailyBeast.com. The “underbelly of Trumpland’’ is about to be exposed, and it will be unseemly at best—criminal at worst. What if Mueller produces evidence that Trump was “compromised’’ by his Russia contacts, or sought to use his office for personal gain? “The people who defend the indefensible—who put “loyalty” to a man (not principle or America) above all else—will not be judged well by history.’’ ■