Given the ocean of blaring red type with which the Drudge Report greeted the news of the indictment of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates on Monday morning, you might have thought that here, at last, was the smoking gun in the Trump-colludes-with-Ruskies-to-snatch-the-election-from-Hillary narrative. I have no doubt the collective hearts of Max Boot, Gabe Schoenfeld, and Bill Kristol skipped a joyous beat when they heard tell of the indictments this weekend. “At last!” I could almost hear them exclaim, “It’s make-way-for-ducklings time! Trump will soon be gone and the power brokers will once again pay attention to us. Order in the universe will be restored.”
No such luck, friends. As Ted Cruz observed many months ago, the whole Russian collusion delusion is a “nothing burger.” Robert Mueller’s heavy-handed “let’s-squeeze-’em” pursuit of these two former players in Donald Trump’s campaign may make for dramatic headlines. And doubtless, it is a nuisance (and potentially more) for Messrs. Manafort and Gates, who, if they have incompetent lawyers, may face jail time and extensive fines. But really, at the end of the day, their alleged malfeasance, despite the “Conspiracy against the United States” heading in the indictment, amounts to concealing from Uncle Sam some $75 million they hoovered up as unregistered foreign agents for Ukraine and sending the proceeds through the rinse, suds, spin, and dry cycle back home in the United States. Naughty, yes; prosecutable, to be sure; but it has nothing to do with the assigned subject of Robert Mueller’s terrier-like activities as special counsel.
As my friend Andrew C. McCarthy put it in a characteristically incisive summary of the episode, Mueller’s case “seems shaky and overcharged” and will likely be a “boon to Trump,” who is not mentioned in the indictment, which focuses on activities that took place five and even 10 years ago, long before Donald Trump began disturbing the sleep of the NeverTrumpers.
“Even from Paul Manafort’s perspective,” McCarthy notes,
there may be less to this indictment than meets the eye — it’s not so much a serious allegation of “conspiracy against the United States” as a dubious case of disclosure violations and money movement that would never have been brought had he not drawn attention to himself by temporarily joining the Trump campaign.
Moreover, McCarthy continues, “From President Trump’s perspective, the indictment is a boon from which he can claim that the special counsel has no actionable collusion case.”
It appears to reaffirm former FBI director James Comey’s multiple assurances that Trump is not a suspect. And, to the extent it looks like an attempt to play prosecutorial hardball with Manafort, the president can continue to portray himself as the victim of a witch hunt.
A few days ago, the world was stunned by the news that 1) the original funder of the Fusion GPS anti-Trump research was the conservative website Washington Free Beacon, edited by Matthew Continetti, the son-in-law of energetic NeverTrumper Bill Kristol, and 2) when the Beacon ended its contract with Fusion GPS, its services were picked up by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. It was at that point, in May-June 2016, that Fusion GPS employed the former British Spy Christopher Steele to look for dirt on Trump in Russia. That was the origin of the infamous “Trump Dossier,” with its (in the words of former FBI director James Comey) “salacious and unverified” claims about Donald Trump’s behavior in Russia.
This whole story has been exhaustively and exhaustingly picked over. Who knew that Tony Podesta, older brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, was in bed (and in today’s climate, we must stipulate, not literally) with Paul Manafort? Yep, it’s true. And this just in—the elder Podesta has just announced that he is stepping down from his lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, after, nota bene, it was announced that Mueller was turning his jaundiced eye on him.
Who knew that the FBI, too, engaged the services of Spook Steele to continue gathering dirt on Trump? Did that work provide the rationale for the Obama Administration’s going to the FISA Court to get authorization to bug Trump’s associates? What about Robert Mueller? He was head of the FBI when that storied agency was prevailed upon not to announce it was investigating the Russian company that acquired Uranium One, and thereby some 20 percent of U.S. uranium assets, back when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and Barack Obama was still pursuing his “reset” with Russia. What’s going on there? And the $140 million (give or take) that found its way into the coffers of the Clinton Foundation around the time of that transfer? Or the $500,000 speaking fee for a short speech by Bill Clinton, paid by a Russian bank working for the Russian company acquiring Uranium One? What about that?
It’s a carnival of corruption, a carnival of collusion, but the one name missing from the roster of malefactors is that of President Donald Trump. I believe this whole misbegotten investigation, in the end, will garner a lot of scalps. But the scalps will not, I suspect, be those of Trump or his supporters. Rather, the whole focus of the investigation is likely to shift to the real “colluders with Russia,” the Clintons and their enablers.
This is not a result, I surmise, that Robert Mueller will relish. But if he does not recuse himself (and there are good reasons that he should), I suspect that evidence of the real collusion—to deprive the United States of its lawfully elected president—will point in only one direction. It will be irresistible. And it won’t be directed against Donald Trump.
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