The Collusion Scenario

Published December 15, 2018

National Review Online

It has become an article of faith in some quarters on the right — well, most — that the Mueller investigation has found no evidence of collusion with Russia and has accordingly shifted gears to process crimes like lying to the FBI or obstruction of justice. Having decided that this must be true, many have called for Mueller to wrap it up.

But this requires a lot of wishful thinking.

Consider the sentencing memos. Most of the attention has focused on the payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. But the Office of Special Counsel advised a federal judge that Michael Cohen had committed other serious crimes. He “withheld information material to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.” He later came clean. Mueller’s office recommended that Cohen be given some credit for this, and included this wording: Cohen “voluntarily provided the SCO with information about his own conduct and that of others on core topics under investigation by the SCO . . . the information he provided has been credible and consistent with other evidence obtained in the SCO’s continuing investigation.”

The “core topic” under investigation is Russian interference in the election. The “other evidence” is unknown to us at this point, but it’s safe to assume that it’s significant, because Mueller would not rely on Cohen’s word alone.

In the sentencing memo about Michael Flynn, Mueller’s office noted that he was cooperating on three criminal investigations. Three.

This should give pause to those who say, “If there were any evidence of collusion with Russia, we would have heard of it by now.” Not necessarily. The Mueller investigation has been the most silent of any in memory. He doesn’t leak. His spokesman is said to have the simplest job in Washington, saying “no comment.”

At least 14 people in Donald Trump’s orbit were approached by Russian agents during the campaign and transition. These included his children, his lawyer, his national-security adviser, and business associates. His campaign chairman, Trump had reason to know when he hired him, was up to his eyeballs in oligarchs. Supposedly, when Trump learned of Paul Manafort’s extensive Russia ties in 2016, he said, “I’ve got a crook running my campaign.” Today he paints Manafort as a martyr and ostentatiously dangles a pardon, even though we’ve since learned of Manafort’s close ties to an asset of Russian intelligence. And it’s worth asking again: If Mr. Trump was such a keen businessman, why didn’t he question Manafort’s willingness to work for free? Shouldn’t it have alarmed him to have someone so indebted to shady Kremlin associates so close?

President Trump has repeatedly denied any connections to Russia. In July, 2016 he told CBS, “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.” And in September, he told a rally, “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks. I’ll give you a written statement.”

You don’t have to credit the lurid gossip in the Steele dossier to know that those statements were lies. It has since come to light that his children and top advisers met at Trump Tower with a Russian peddling dirt on Clinton. Or just check the guilty pleas of Michael Cohen. Cohen now confirms that Trump was pursuing a Moscow tower deal until at least June of 2016. The Trump organization was hoping to get Vladimir Putin’s approval and endorsement of the idea, and were apparently considering doing business the Russian way — offering Putin himself the penthouse, valued at $50 million, as a loss leader. Trump signed a letter of intent to go forward with the project on October 28, 2015, the night of the third Republican presidential primary debate — in the midst of denials that he had anything to do with Russia.

Felix Sater, a Russian-born Trump business colleague, was working on this with Cohen. After the letter of intent was signed, Sater wrote to Cohen saying: “Everything will be negotiated and discussed not with flunkies but with people who will have dinner with Putin and discuss the issues and get a go-ahead. My next steps are very sensitive with Putin’s very, very close people. We can pull this off.”

They didn’t. But not for lack of trying. Roger Stone, a longtime Trump pal and self-styled dirty trickster, boasted of ties to WikiLeaks. Others who were weirdly friendly toward the Kremlin included George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, and, of course, Donald Trump Jr.

The reason so many people of low character are proving problematic to this president is that he has always attracted that sort. If he let them conspire a little against “crooked Hillary,” would that really be a shock?


— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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