Donald Trump may not have constructed his wall along the southern border, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t built an impressive edifice—only this one remained all but invisible until it started to crumble. Trump has constructed a protective circle, a wall of lies, surrounding himself and his connections to Russia. But that wall is tumbling down.
On Tuesday, Rudy Giuliani helpfully pointed out that Donald Trump’s legal team had a joint defense agreement with ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort’s lawyers. This allowed them to share information and strategies between the two sets of lawyers. This amazingly continued after Manafort reached a cooperating agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller. But it wasn’t the first time that such an arrangement has come to light concerning Trump’s legal defense.
Notably, the first public indication that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was going to make a deal with Mueller was when it became public knowledge that his lawyers were withdrawing from just such a joint defense deal. How many of these deals did Trump’s legal team make? According to MSNBC, that number would be 32. Thirty-two. When you have made joint defense agreements with 32 people under threat of criminal indictment, you don’t have an administration: You have a mafia.
During the run-up to the midterms, Republicans insisted that Robert Mueller had to stay quiet and hold off on court filings and indictments, even though the voluntary guideline of the Justice Department didn’t apply in this case. Mueller was quiet. On the other hand, Trump, was anything but quiet. Though it’s hard to remember now, there was a point where Trump seemed to be careful to declare his innocence, and even after he began throwing around the term “witch hunt” he still stopped short of attacking Mueller or other members of the investigation directly. There’s a simple reason for this: Any defendant waging war on the prosecution is generally regarded by the legal term of “bugnuts.”
For the first weeks after the midterms ended, it seemed that Mueller might stay quiet. As then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein handed over their office and the Russia investigation to scam artist Matthew Whitaker, there was a lot of talk about the Mueller investigation “winding down” and a row of pundits lining up to say that they expected a final report Real Soon Now. There were expectations that the investigation was going to wrap up with the indictment of Manafort, with perhaps a side order of Roger Stone.
Except that’s not happening. It’s clear now that Mueller was only waiting for Donald Trump to turn in his responses to a set of written questions—including questions about Trump’s knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting between his campaign staff and Russian operatives, and about the timing of events regarding a potential Trump real estate project in Moscow. Once those answers were in, Mueller stopped being quiet. And the sound he made was that of a trap slamming shut.
The idea that Paul Manafort would continue talking with Trump’s legal team after making a deal with Mueller seemed shocking. It also seemed to warm the cockles of … whatever Rudy Giuliani keeps under his vest. But Giuliani and Trump seemed to be convinced that they pulled one over on Mueller. That, because they were collaborating with Manafort’s legal team before Trump turned in his responses, they were proof against any contradictory statements made by Trump’s campaign manager.
Only … as soon as Trump turned in his homework, Mueller was ready to bring back to court two critical figures in the case he’s building, for two very different reasons. Manafort was dragged back to court to face allegations that he had lied to investigators and violated his plea agreement. Cohen was back to announce a new agreement with the special counsel—an agreement in which he admits to lying.
Trump has long discarded any relationship with normal legal proceedings. He’s counted on his Great Wall of Lies and the circled wagons of his defense agreements to protect him. Except Trump doesn’t seem to notice that Mueller keeps catching people in their lies. Michael Flynn was caught lying. Paul Manafort? Lying. George Papadopoulos? Lying. Carter Page? Lying? Jerome Corsi? Michael Cohen? Rick Gates? Lying, lying, lying.
And the reason that Mueller is able to catch people lying is because he carefully collects the other evidence—the emails, phone logs, recordings, and statements—that allow him to know if he’s getting an accurate answer to a question. What’s becoming clear is that Mueller isn’t looking in a number of directions: he’s tightly following his initial obligations.
Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime? At the same time Mueller and the Angry Democrats aren’t even looking at the atrocious, and perhaps subversive, crimes that were committed by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. A total disgrace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2018
Mueller has caught everyone involved with Trump lying. There seems little doubt that he’s also caught Donald Trump. But there’s a lot more to this investigation than just racking up the perjury charges.
The recent revelations make it seem more and more likely that Paul Manafort wasn’t just a part of the Russian effort—he was one of the principal authors of the plan. He worked directly with Moscow to help them initiate both the social media and hacking parts of the scheme. If The Guardian article is correct, Manafort was even involved in planning for how Russia would distribute its stollen information at the same time he was joining the Trump team. Also key players in that scheme were Emin and Aras Agalarov, Trump’s Russian real estate partners, who arranged the Trump Tower meeting—which Manafort attended—as well as dealing with Michael Cohen on Trump Tower Moscow. The Agalarovs were also Trump’s partners in the Miss Universe pageant, and his hosts for the Moscow weekend that was mentioned in the infamous Steele dossier.
Manafort, Cohen, Stone, Corsi, Papadopoulos, Page—the other 27 people indicted by Mueller—it’s all one story. It’s the story of how Russia worked with the Trump campaign to steal information from private sources within the Democratic Party and distribute them through WikiLeaks, with a supporting operation in the form of a targeted social media campaign that employed a small army of propaganda artists and a large army of ‘bots. In other words: it’s the collusion, stupid.
Far from being the one thing that Mueller has failed to prove, the conspiracy between Donald Trump’s campaign and Vladimir Putin’s cyber-military continues to be the core of what Mueller has investigated and is charging.
Mueller’s not done yet. The easiest way to tell is that there’s another piece of this story. It’s almost certain that this story will include charges against Trump IT director and 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale. It’s certain to encompass more people related to Cambridge Analytica. It very well means more time in the interview chair for Jefferson B. Sessions.
And the investigation may yet expand in directions where there has so far been very little noise. The biggest reason to believe this: Michael Flynn. Flynn was facing the possibility of a list of charges that rivaled those of Paul Manafort, including a scheme to kidnap a Muslim cleric and deliver him to Turkey. But Flynn got an absolute sweetheart of a plea deal. The fruits of that plea deal were … absolutely nothing that we’ve heard about so far.
Oh, and Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi are likely to go to jail. So will Republican strategist Aaron Nevins. That seems almost certain at this point. It’s just a question of who will join them.