Saturday, April 7, 2018

BTRTN: Head-On Collusion Course...Mueller vs. Putin

Call it Manafort Destiny. Mueller really, really wants to flip Manafort, but just can’t crack him. Perhaps that’s because Manafort suspects that singing about the Russia connection would make Vlad the Colluder mighty unhappy. And what does Vlad do when he is angry? Steve puts the pieces together...

The President of the United States is currently under investigation for potential involvement in two crimes that clearly rise to the constitutional definition of an impeachable offense: collusion with a hostile sovereign nation to undermine our democratic election process and obstruction of justice are both “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

To many progressives, the question is less about whether Trump is guilty, so much as “why is it taking so goddam long to prove it?” After all, Donald Trump very publicly committed collusion in front of a campaign rally, and even more publicly confessed to obstruction on national television.
It was at a campaign rally back in July 27, 2016 that Trump famously asked, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” The only way for Russians to “find” the e-mails that had been erased from a private server would be if that hostile foreign government illegally hacked private property in the United States with the intent of damaging one presidential candidate’s campaign. When that action is based on a suggestion from the other candidate, there’s a word for that, right? Ah, yes. Collusion.

Then, on Thursday, May 11, 2017, Trump admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey because of the FBI investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia: “But regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” In his interview with Holt, Trump went out of his way to actually dismiss a reasonably credible rationale – his Deputy Attorney General’s recommendation to fire Comey based on his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation – to assert that the firing was his own doing and that it was based on his desire to terminate the Russia investigation.

The irony is that if Robert Mueller’s investigative team had discovered the exact same words in secret emails attributed to Trump, they would probably be popping corks for having finally unearthed the smoking guns that would nail both cases. Imagine finding an email from Donald Trump to Paul Manafort: “Hey, Paul! You have contacts in Russia. Why not ask them to do us a favor and have their IT security experts hack Clinton’s servers and recover the lost emails? Let me know – The Donald.” That alone would be proof of an intent to collude. That Russian intelligence operatives have been linked to the leak of the Podesta emails in October, 2016 would appear to have been the “call and response” triggered by such an email. Collusion case closed.
Or imagine an internal White House memo dictated by Trump: “Jeff – I think this whole Russia thing is a made-up story. I can’t understand why Comey is pursuing it. I am going to fire him to stop the investigation. Best, The Donald.” If these quotes turned up as a result of a grand jury subpoena of private White Houses staffer email accounts, the articles of impeachment would have been drafted by sundown.

But here we are, fifteen months into The Apprentice Presidency, and Robert Mueller is methodically turning over every rock imaginable to find out whether Donald Trump committed these offenses, and if so, whether those transgressions can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

If you think the protracted duration of this investigation is because investigators are straining to find evidence that bears upon their investigation, think again. If there was a 21st Century Deep Throat whispering to investigative reporters in 2018, he actually would not be saying “follow the money.” He would be urging them to “follow the electrons.” The biggest difference between Richard Nixon’s disgrace and the one hurtling toward Donald Trump is a development called the Internet, where billions and billions of transactions, e-mails, encrypted files, and Justin Bieber videos flow daily on the wings of charged electrons. Today, you follow the money electronically. You follow the email trails around the world on cloud servers. You word-search hard drives that store terabytes of information. The amount of information to be unraveled and reviewed in an investigation of this scale is overwhelming, and each new lead leads to troves of additional data.

As a result, Mueller’s investigators are keenly pursuing a breathtaking variety of potential aspects of collusion.

There’s the original collusion “coffee boy,” George Papadopolous, the early Trump staffer who told the Australian ambassador to the U.K. in May, 2016 that the Russians had emails that that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton, causing the unsung hero Aussie to tip off the FBI and start an investigation. Papadopolous pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.

There was the Grand Collusion Ball at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, when Don Junior was positively giddy in anticipation of meeting Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. The famous Trump Tower meeting factors in both the collusion and obstruction investigations, as this was the meeting that caused President Donald Trump to dictate an absurd cover story for his boy’s meeting, only to see the cover story blow up when Donald the Dumber released the full email trail about the meeting on his twitter feed. 

There are loose cannons like Carter Page, a Trump campaign advisor who glibly told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he would not deny having met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while at the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The Republicans changed a crucial plank in their party platform to adopt a position on the Ukraine that was far more sympathetic to Russian interests. Mueller is all over this one. 
Rick Gates is apparently a geyser of information. Reports that Russian oligarchs are being hit with search warrants when their private jets touch on U.S. soil – all to examine electronic devices for evidence of illegal campaign contributions – are speculated to have resulted from tips from Gates.

There is the beating heart of the collusion speculation: that the Trump campaign was directly involved in the timing of Wikileak’s distribution of the Podesta emails, thought to be the Russian’s quid pro quo for the party platform modification.

We needn’t even bother pointing out the evidence of a way-too-cozy coddling of Russians during the transition, when Jared Kushner was trying to set up secret back-channels to Moscow and Michael Flynn was kissing up to Kislyak on a FBI recorded line.

And then there is the grandest piece of circumstantial evidence of all: that the President of the United States accuses the FBI of conducting a witch hunt, calls Democrats “treasonous” for failing to clap at his State of the Union address, and yet cannot find a single negative word to say about the most ruthless Russian dictator since Stalin, a man who has waged war on our democratic process and used chemical agents to murder opponents on foreign soil.

Still, though, somewhere in a conference room in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., investigators are working on each and every potential element of collusion, but a huge piece of the massive a jig-saw puzzle is missing. That is the cooperation of former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.

Whenever you feel like you’ve had a really crappy day – lousy client meeting, insubordinate teenager, unappreciative spouse, faulty cable box – just pause, look in the mirror, smile, and say these words out loud: “Thank you, dear God, that I am not Paul Manafort.”

Paul Manafort is in a world of hurt, patient zero in the collusion wing of the Trump MASH unit, the guy sitting dead center in the Venn Diagram that has Putin and the Russian Oligarchs in one circle and the Trump campaign in the other. 

This is a guy who is absolutely refusing to cut a deal with Robert Mueller despite facing jail time that would last, should he survive, until the millennium when the Jetson family is no longer cartoon science fiction. Just about everybody he has worked with who is not named Trump or married to somebody named Trump has already flipped and is singing to Mueller like the saucy new cast of My Fair Lady, and they are no doubt offering up juicey deets on Manafort when not able to implicate the Big Stupid himself. Speculation that Manafort is sitting pretty with the promise of a pardon is easily dismissed by the reality that many of the allegations against him could be tried as state crimes, which are beyond the reach of a Presidential pardon.  The mere optics alone on this guy are overwhelming: once he’s comfortably ensconced in a Federal White-Collar Crime Spa, expect a best seller entitled, “If I Colluded.”

That Manafort refuses to cut a deal is particularly mind-exploding when you realize that the likes of Flynn, Papadopolous, and Gates are being offered deals that appear to carry penalties like “ten spankings with a feather duster.” Given what Manafort must know, it is hard to imagine that he has not been offered a deal that would limit his prison time to the order of magnitude the NFL doles out for spousal abuse.

Mueller keeps turning the screws tighter on Manafort and yet he does not flinch. We suppose it is possible that he believes he could squeeze out a "not guilty' verdict from a jury, but the collusion cognoscenti hypothesize that Manafort is actually far more terrified of ratting out Trump than going to prison. 

The reason, perhaps, could be found on a park bench in Salisbury, England, where a former Russian spy was poisoned by a nerve agent found uniquely in the arsenal of the Russian government.

It was one of the most peculiar news stories in some time: the attempted murder of the former agent, considered a traitor by Russia, was conducted in a way that any and every intelligence agency in the western world would definitively know could only have been executed by Russians. Moreover, there were two targets... the agent, and his daughter. It was as if a blatant message was being broadcast over every major broadcasting network on the planet: if you betray mother Russia, you – and everyone in your family – will be found writhing in agony on a park bench. 

Why would Russia commit such an easily traceable crime? Why commit such an obviously public hit, executed in broad daylight in a western democracy? If the Kremlin simply wanted that former spy dead, there are probably a zillion ways Russian agents could have accomplished the task without anyone ever knowing about it. And yet this attempted murder seemed designed to generate press coverage, all the more so because of the bold Russian fingerprints all over the scene of the crime.

Perhaps Vladimir Putin knows that Paul Manafort – the Chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign during the precise period when the suspected collusion materialized – is the one guy on earth who can bury Donald Trump’s presidency.   

Paul Manafort knows exactly what Donald Trump was told, because Paul Manafort was the guy who would have been doing the telling. Paul Manafort may well indeed be the only person outside of the Trump family who actually talked about the campaign’s contacts with Russia with Donald Trump. He may be the only eyewitness in an otherwise largely circumstantial case.

Perhaps that poisoned former spy – and his innocent daughter – were just a big fat message from Vladimir Putin to Manafort: don’t you dare turn on Trump, or you and your family might find yourselves slumped over on a park bench.
Maybe it is that simple. Maybe Putin really does have something so bad on Donald Trump that he knows he has him in his pocket. He owns him. And he hasn’t even really begun to use him yet. Putin likes the idea that he owns Trump. He doesn’t want anybody – not Mueller, not Manafort, and certainly not Donald Trump – to screw up his orchestration.

So he sends a giant postcard to Paul Manafort via the BBC and CNN: screw up my sweet deal and you’re going to wish you had spent a thousand years in Sing Sing. 

Maybe that is why Paul Manafort will never take any deal Mueller offers. 

Mueller will then do what he has to do.  He will prosecute Manafort to the full extent of the law, look on as Manafort lies or pleads the fifth, and then lock him away for all eternity... but Mueller does not have the ultimate corroborating evidence he believes he needs so badly.

Too much conspiracy theory, you say? 

Well, at least this one explains the most obvious circumstantial evidence in the entire investigation... why Donald Trump absolutely refuses to risk any offense to Vladimir Putin. 

Because Paul Manafort, after all, may only be Vladimir Putin’s second most important agent in the United States.

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