Hard News by Russell Brown


And so it begins ...

In a bracing analysis for Lawfare Blog, Susan Hennessy characterises Special Counsel Robert Mueller's first round of indictments in his investigation into Russian interference in last year's US Presidential election as "a remarkable show of strength" on the prosecutor's part.

Not only is Mueller alleging "astonishing criminality" on the part of Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is said to have laundered $75,000,000 in payments from the Russian puppet government in Ukraine, but ...

The second big takeaway is even starker: A member of President Trump’s campaign team admits that he was working with people he knew to be tied to the Russian government to “arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government officials” and to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of hacked emails—and that he lied about these activities to the FBI. He briefed President Trump on at least some of them.

Hennessy ventures that the charge to which that member of the Trump team, George Papadopoulos, has admitted – lying to FBI investigators in an interview – is but the tip of an iceberg:

Proving that someone is lying is often easier than proving that the underlying offense violates the law. Here, for example, Papadopoulos’s underlying activity—working with Russian government officials to obtain “dirt” on Clinton and set up a Putin-Trump meeting—may have been legal, if wholly disreputable. Lying about it, however, is a crime. We can assume that Mueller had the goods on Papadopoulos beyond lying to the bureau in some manner. The lying, after all, is merely the charge he pleaded to in the context of a plea deal in which prosecutors have cut him a break. 

That said, the Papadopoulos stipulation offers a stunningly frank, if probably incomplete, account of what occurred during the spring of 2016 in the Trump campaign. To wit, during that period, Trump campaign officials were actively working to set up a meeting with Russian officials or representatives. And from a very early point in the campaign, those meetings were explicitly about obtaining hacked, incriminating emails.

"Things," Hennessey concludes, "are only going to get worse from here."

Indeed, a number of journalists are already noting that the characterisation of Papadopoulos in a court filing from Mueller's office as a "proactive cooperator" suggests that Papadopoulos has been cooperating with the Feds for perhaps three months – and may have worn a wire in that time.

Talking Points Memo notes that the third man indicted today, Manafort's adviser Rick Gates, maintained close and active involvement with the Trump project through into this year. And the Miami Herald reports that one of the entities Manafort and Gates used to launder their millions was even paid $70,000 last year and this year by the Republican National Committee, for "political strategy services".

There is much more commentary and reporting abroad than the examples I've noted, of course, and you should feel free to share and discuss it in the comments below.

But in a separate but possibly not-unrelated development, The Guardian reports that UKIP insiders went to the UK Electoral Comission last year with their concerns about “unusual arrangements” the party was entering into with Steve Bannon's Breitbart – arrangements that arguably put UKIP over its spending limit in the Brexit referendum campaign. The report came the day after Diane Cadwalldr laid out in the Observer the implications of Julian Assange's admission that Wikileaks was approached by Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm that fuelled the Trump campaign, in search of a supposed trove of Hilary Clinton emails.

It's not unreasonable to suppose that the whole thing will come crashing down in the next year or two. This seems an unprecedented time in politics.

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