Donald Trump proved himself a terrible gift-giver last month when all he got wife Melania for her 48th birthday was … a card. He’s done Robert S. Mueller III much better, spraying him indirectly with a pair of “no collusion” tweets as the first anniversary of the special counsel’s appointment passed. Mueller didn’t give his anniversary partner anything in return, although a piece of paper—a subpoena to testify, perhaps—would have been keeping with tradition.
What Trump wants, of course, is an end to the relationship. Instead, Mueller seems more committed than ever to preserving the relationship as he continues excavating into Russian monkeying with the 2016 election. Without leaks or fanfare, he’s gone deeper and wider, rolling up guilty pleas among intimates and hangers-on in President Donald Trump’s orbit, getting people to flip, and sent his first perp to jail. This week, for example, he persuaded the son-in-law of the multiply-indicted Paul Manafort to cut a plea deal and cooperate in the investigation.
“Contrary to the president’s repeated assertions of a ‘witch hunt,’ the validity of the investigation has gotten more solid with every passing month,” writes my former boss, Garrett M. Graff, this week in Wired. As Graff points out, you can credit Mueller’s probe for wrecking K.T. McFarland’s nomination to the Singapore ambassadorship, zapping Sam Clovis’ appointment to the Department of Agriculture, and diluting Jared Kushner’s security clearance. Presidential fixer Michael Cohen owes his suppurating wound (you know, the one he carries around the streets of Manhattan as he walks from cigar bar to cigar bar) to Mueller’s team, which uncovered that he accepted more than $1 million from an American company connected to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. It will take some creative explaining—or a tidy lie—for Cohen to explain all the strange money flowing into his account. How much of this mess will the fixer be able to fix?
Although our information about Mueller’s investigation is imperfect—he runs a ship of tight lips—he seems to have perfected the art of catching suspects who lie to investigators and then using that violation to get smaller fish like Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Alexander van der Zwaan (now in jail) to confess and cooperate. If we’re allowed to review the Mueller performance before it has concluded, the first act seems to be about squeezing Manafort—until he rats out other Trump campaign members in return for leniency—while lining up subsidiary crimes of money laundering, obstruction of justice, cyber trespasses and campaign finance violations that bring him potentially closer to the Trump-Russia nexus.
Who else in the Trump orbit can we expect to knot a noose with their own words? Donald Trump Jr.’s complete testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, all 249 pages of it released this week, stands as a study in obfuscation if not creative lying. I suspect he has The Complete Book of Knots on his bookshelf. Junior told the committee he never told his father of the impending Trump Tower meeting that promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But then why did his father promise “very informative and very, very interesting” information on Clinton at a campaign rally in June 2016 after Junior learned of the “dirt” offer but before the meeting took place? “I have no idea,” a slightly twisted Junior told the committee.
How about those three blocked number phone calls Junior made, before and after the meeting? Asked, Junior said couldn’t remember whether he had directed any of them to his father, even after a congressional investigator nudged him in that direction. In his testimony before the committee, Rob Goldstone—publicist and go-between for Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch, and his singer son Emin—said that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner got all “agitated” at the Trump Tower meeting when the Russians palavered on but didn’t spread any of the promised dirt. Was the meeting secret? investigators asked Goldstone. “Well, I checked in for it on Facebook, so not really,” he answered.
Running down the list of other Trumpers who had campaign or transition contacts with Russians, we find Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner, all of whom seem ripe subjects for interrogation and potential contradiction based on their records. (Sessions and Kushner have been interviewed, Cohen and Stone have not yet had the privilege but are expected to.) Will these men suffer from automatic amnesia when it comes to discussing their contacts with Russians?
In a stunning piece this week sourced to interviews, emails, text messages, testimony, and other documents, BuzzFeed reported that Cohen and Felix Sater, Trump intimate, ex-felon, and international man of mystery, were still working to build a Trump Tower in Moscow well into the 2016 campaign—contradicting Trump’s claim that he had nothing cooking in Russia. The piece also claims Cohen and Sater were coordinating a prospective Trump-Putin meeting. The tower plans were not abandoned until July 2016, BuzzFeed continues. This directly contradicts Cohen’s January 11, 2017, appearance on the Fox News Channel, where he told Sean Hannity, “The last time that there was any activity between the Trump Organization—actually, wasn’t even really the Trump Organization, it was the  Miss Universe pageant, it was held in Moscow.”
About his Russian interests, Trump held a calendar in one hand and crossed the fingers on his other when he deflected the Russia question in an interview with CBS4 Miami’s Jim Defede on July 27, 2016, saying, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
The week also brought the back story from the New York Times of “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Rolling Stones-derived code name the FBI assigned to his original and wide-ranging investigation about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Opened on July 31, 2016, it stemmed from a tip from an Australian diplomat that Trump advisor Papadopoulos was bragging about his knowledge of Russian meddling in the election. The story portrays the FBI as hyper-aware of the political sensitivity of the investigation, that if made public could tip the presidential election. “Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case,” the Times reports. The FBI so concealed the investigation from Congress and the press that when the Times attempted to measure its scope for a story on October 31, 2016, the government downplayed the probe, leading to the now-controversial headline, “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”
Participating in the fantastical-sounding operation along with the FBI, said fleeting Trump attorney Joseph diGenova on Fox News Thursday night, were senior members of the Department of Justice, former CIA director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey. The diGenova accusation, which host Tucker Carlson swallowed, has yet to be seconded by Trump. But he’s on the same page. On the morning of diGenova’s appearance, the president tweeted that President Barack Obama’s FBI had embedded an informant inside Trump 2016 campaign, sourcing an article in National Review, which in turn cited a piece by Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly A. Strassel.
DiGenova left his phaser set at “giggle” with his final words, saying “criminal referrals have already been made” and advising John Brennan to get a good criminal attorney. If true, we’re going to need a bigger jail. U.S. officials denied to CNN that an FBI informant was ever placed in the Trump campaign.
The former U.S. attorney made former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani look like a paragon of reason as he blitzed his way through the media secondary in an attempt to score for his president. Appearing on CNN, Giuliani made grand claims there were two “embedded” people in the Trump campaign. But he had no proof. “That’s what we were told,” he said. But, Giuliani rowed back, saying that the embedded people cleared the president. The crazy thing about the diGenova-Giuliani reality dual is that the guy who isn’t Trump’s attorney is claiming to know more about the case than the guy who is.According to tradition, the second anniversary is supposed to be celebrated with cotton. Here’s predicting that you buy some to stuff your ears before that date arrives.