The Memo: Dangers multiply for Trump in Mueller probe
The waters of Robert Mueller’s investigation are rising higher by the day, putting President Trump and his inner circle in increasing legal and political danger.
A series of recent revelations “have, at least, indicated that there is fire amid all that smoke,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a retired FBI special agent who was also detailed to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2012 to 2014.
New disclosures have come at a dizzying speed in recent days.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Mueller had gathered evidence suggesting a meeting in Seychelles shortly before Trump’s inauguration was an attempt to create a back channel between his team and Russia.
The special counsel is also said to be investigating whether Jared Kushner’s family business dealings influenced U.S. foreign policy.
In addition, Mueller’s team has reportedly secured the cooperation of a hitherto-marginal figure, Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, who was stopped and questioned by the FBI at Washington Dulles International Airport in January.
And Nader’s emails are purported to reveal a push by a Republican fundraiser with links to the United Arab Emirates to get Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fired.
There have also been a number of other intriguing, if more marginal, developments.
A New Yorker profile of Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored a contentious dossier alleging Russia had compromising material on Trump, included the detail that British intelligence services had intercepted “a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow” during the 2016 campaign. “The content of these intercepts has not become public,” the author, Jane Mayer, added.
Put it all together and experts agree the perils for Team Trump are multiplying.
Mueller’s team is “digging deep into [every] element of a very complicated story,” said Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general.
“When they meet in the middle and complete the puzzle, it’s likely that a number of additional people will be going to jail and that Trump’s criminal conduct on one or more levels will be apparent.”
Trump and his allies vigorously insist that he has done nothing wrong.
The president has said again and again that the Mueller probe is a “witchhunt,” confected by Democrats and other anti-Trump forces to assuage their embarrassment about Hillary Clinton’s shock loss in the 2016 election.
The president’s most fervent backers, in both politics and the media, have suggested that Mueller’s probe might be derailed by allegations of political bias.
Those hopes reached their peak with the publication of the so-called Nunes memo, in early February. The memo, written by members of staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), alleged misdeeds by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
But with every new revelation, it has become harder to undercut the investigation in any fundamental way. In mid-February, Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities over alleged cyber efforts to influence the 2016 election.
“Despite President Trump’s continuing claim that there is ‘no collusion, no collusion,’ ironically it could be the case that, even if there is no collusion, Trump would still be exposed to criminal jeopardy based upon these other investigations,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a former assistant attorney general who served in senior positions under two Republican presidents and who is now a law professor at Notre Dame Law School.
“The broader investigation is fanning out into greater jeopardy and greater potential liability.”
Some law enforcement veterans warn that Trump’s critics are in danger of getting ahead of the evidence.
James Gagliano, who spent more than two decades in the FBI, said that he had yet to see anything that proved there was “an underlying scheme” to collude with Russia to influence the election.
But he nonetheless acknowledged that the probe was now spreading beyond that specific question.
“To say that [Mueller] is not going to bring more charges, I think, would be folly,” Gagliano said. “I think there will be more charges.”
Former Justice Department veterans say that the recent revelations simply underline what some experts have pointed out repeatedly: that Mueller’s team knows far more than is in the public arena and can reveal it at a time of their choosing.
“It’s not Mueller who is discovering new things all the time, as much as it is that we are learning about areas Mueller has been investigating all along,” said Joyce White Vance, who served as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama throughout the Obama administration.
“The system is not designed for us to know everything prosecutors are investigating, and the tip of the iceberg we are seeing is far from the whole picture,” Vance added. “But we do seem to be seeing more of the tip over time.”
Opinion is almost unanimous that there are more bombshells to come. That could be very bad news for the president and those close to him.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.
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