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I had a conversation the other day with an old friend who does consulting for the intelligence community. He wouldn’t admit to working on the Trump/Russia investigation, but I know he works with people who are working on it, and he has worked on investigations of a similar type and scale. He does data analysis, sifting through large amounts of evidence to prepare reports for investigating agents and sometimes even providing expert testimony in court. The most I could get him to say about what he was working on was, “you know that even if I was working on the Mueller thing, I could never admit it, right?”

Nevertheless, he was willing to talk about the nature of investigations in the abstract. He was actually rather animated on the topic, once I poured a few beers down him.

The thing that really got him going was when I mentioned how Trump supporters were describing Mueller’s indictments as a bunch of ‘nothing-burgers’ or saying that there must be no evidence of collusion if he hasn’t dropped the hammer after all this time. He actually laughed out loud at that.

“They had evidence of collusion from day one,” he insisted, “now it’s all about seeing how high up the chain the corruption goes.” He says our intelligence services have evidence of collusion with Russians by members of the Trump campaign, mostly in the form of SIGINT (signal intelligence, i.e. foreign wire taps). It was that SIGINT, both by our intel agencies and by our allies, that caused the investigation to kick off in the first place. What has leaked to the press, he says, would only be the tip of the iceberg. The most damning stuff has been kept secret to protect sources and methods. But the Mueller indictments actually hint that evidence runs much deeper than what has been publicly revealed so far.

This is how my friend described it: “Mueller is playing poker with a whole extra deck stuffed up his sleeve. He has the entire US intelligence apparatus at his disposal. When he calls someone in for an interview, he often already has something on them, something he knows they will lie about. Then when they lie, he has them… they’ve perjured themselves, and he has the documents or SIGINT to prove it. They have to flip and become a cooperating witness, otherwise they go down for the lie as well as the thing they lied about.”

And that, my friend surmises, is why some of these guilty pleas seem like such weak tea… they cut a deal to avoid going down for something worse. Mueller gets a cooperating witness that provides new evidence while also holding off on the bigger charges that would reveal too much about what he knows. The new evidence he collects can then be used to lay similar traps for even bigger fish, working his way up the chain. “It’s a classic RICO style investigation,” he insisted. As for the slow pace of things… “This thing is actually moving pretty fast compared to others I’ve seen. Conspiracy cases can often drag on for years.”

When I asked for a prediction of when and how this will all end, however, my friend was a bit more circumspect. “You never can tell how these things are going to play out. It can look like it’s going nowhere, then suddenly it cracks wide open. Other times it will seem like its steaming along just to have the whole case collapse. I think a bunch of people will go down, but I don’t know if it reaches Trump. If he was oblivious of the Russian shit-storm raging around him, he could skate… but if he knew what his staff was doing and gave even a half-hearted nod, Mueller will treat that the same as giving the orders.”

I think the Trump faithful are in for a bumpy ride.

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