The pace of announcements around the special counsel investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives is increasing, as are the distractions and attempts to derail that investigation.
News of interviews with Attorney General Jefferson Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey has been matched with increasingly fantastic claims—including both the Devin Nunes-authored #ReleaseTheMemo memo and Senator Ron Johnson’s Secret Society within the FBI. With word that Mueller would like to have a sit-down with Donald Trump, Trump’s legal team is attempting to negotiate rules to limit the damage—though it seems unlikely that Mueller would agree to much in the way of restrictions.
With Republicans desperately throwing up everything from text messages between lovers to memos they’ve written themselves as “evidence” that the FBI and Justice Department are overrun with deep-state, Clinton-loving traitors, Mueller has continued with his careful, step by step construction of a case against Trump and members of his campaign—and that case is well ahead of what most suspected.
A year ago today, Donald Trump’s newly sworn–in national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met privately in his West Wing office with FBI investigators interested in his communications with Russia’s ambassador, without a lawyer or the knowledge of the president and other top White House officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
Michael Flynn began his meetings with the FBI even before he was fired, and it was at that secret meeting where Flynn told the lies that would later form the basis of his plea deal with Mueller. It appears now that Flynn’s talks with the FBI and Mueller were lengthy, and invisible to Trump’s team.
From the outset, it’s been clear that Mueller would pursue an obstruction case as part of his investigation into Trump. That case includes putting together all the pieces around how former FBI Director James Comey was dismissed, and how Trump attempted to pressure Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.
But a third point is emerging as a clear focus of Mueller’s work: Michael Flynn’s dismissal. And that could be the prong of this attack that really frightens Trump.
The steps to build a case around Comey’s dismissal are obvious. Last week, Mueller interviewed Sessions. The focus of that interview appears to have been around both the last days leading up to Comey’s firing, and earlier meetings where Sessions was present for all or part of discussions between Trump and Comey. Following the interview with Sessions, it was revealed that Mueller had interviewed Comey last year, with the focus again on both his recollection of those last days on the job, his meetings with Trump, and the personal notes he wrote following those meetings.
Comey’s dismissal, along with the convolutions that Trump, White House counsel Don McGahn, advisor Stephen Miller, Attorney General Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made in creating a false narrative around that dismissal, is the first plank in Mueller’s obstruction case against Trump. Trump fired the FBI director because he wouldn’t follow instructions on the Russia investigation, then created a cover story about that firing which he presented to the public.
Trump’s efforts to force Comey to restrict his investigation and to drop his look into Michael Flynn is the second plank in Mueller’s case. In those meetings, Trump both attempted to get Comey to swear allegiance to him personally, and explicitly asked him to drop portions of the Russia investigation — including the look into Flynn. Comey found the requests so over the line, that he recorded these meetings afterward in a series of personal notes that he later shared with friends. That’s plank number two.
But the third plank … is more interesting.
Flynn left the White House after Mike Pence went on TV to make yet another claim that no member of the Trump team had talked to Russian officials about US policy. It was already clear at that point that Flynn had engaged in exactly that kind of discussion, and on more than one occasion. The embarrassment to Pence was used as the justification for firing Flynn.
But that makes very little sense. It’s been Mike Pence’s job from the moment he came on board Trump Force One to lie for Donald Trump. The claim he made about no member of the Trump team having associated with the Russians wasn’t the first, either for Pence or Trump. In fact, Trump continues to make such claims, even though they’ve long proven to be untrue.
With news that Flynn talked to the FBI—without telling Trump—even before he left the White House, it’s becoming more clear that the reason we’ve been told why Flynn was sent packing was at least as phony as the Rosenstein memo cobbled together to cover up Trump’s firing of Comey.
Flynn has been talking. He started talking even before Trump pulled the trigger. All of which should, and does, frighten Trump.
The tally of figures who have spent their time in Mueller’s chair is impressive.
By the end of 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had spoken with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, former FBI Director James Comey, and numerous members of Trump’s campaign and White House inner circle.
And you can add a few more to that list …
NBC News also has learned that former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who informed the White House about Flynn’s interview two days after it took place, has cooperated with the special counsel. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was allegedly asked by Trump to lean on Comey to drop his investigation, has also been interviewed, according to people familiar with the inquiry.
All of this is just one part of the larger investigation. What about the obstruction related to Trump personally authoring a memo, while on board Air Force One, in which he knowingly lied about the reason for the Trump Tower meeting? What about the underlying case for conspiracy that includes not just the Trump Tower meeting, but personal meetings of almost every senior member of Trump’s campaign team? What about financial crimes related to the money laundering implicit in the Trump Organization’s connections to oligarchs and mobsters?
This is just one piece of the puzzle. But all by itself, it may be enough. And the story of why Michael Flynn was really fired, and the topic of his discussion with the FBI while he was still in the White House, could be very interesting.
None of this seems to indicate that Mueller is anywhere near finished. Bannon’s interview is still outstanding. So is Trump’s. We still haven’t seen any charges related to information Mueller gleaned from either the deals with Papadopoulos or Flynn. There’s a lot still to come—and no doubt Republican tales of double-secret FBI cults trading satanic pizza recipes by Instagram image will be spread at ever higher volume.
But the coffin nail labeled “obstruction” seems to already be firmly in place.