Robert Mueller is closing in on the president.
Much like a python wrapping itself around its prey, his investigative noose looking into Russian meddling in last year’s election is tightening around Donald Trump’s ill-fated White House.
After indicting three members of the president’s inner circle this month (Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his right hand man Rick Gates, and foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos), the special counsel also struck a plea bargain with former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
“As anyone who watches Law and Order knows, prosecutors offer a plea deal in order to get information and build a case against someone higher up in the food chain,” write former government officials Max Bergmann and Max Boot in the Guardian: “If Flynn does strike a plea agreement, there is logically only one person that Mueller would be interested in striking a deal over: the president.“
And, as Mueller’s investigation inches closer and closer towards Trump, this combustible president will certainly start to implode. In fact, there are already signs that this is starting to happen.
Last week, the tweeter in chief lashed out at the FBI, saying that its reputation is in “tatters.” And on Monday, in a truly bizarre turn of events, the president’s legal team insisted that they should get their own special counsel to investigate the special counsel on account of political bias.
Terrified into a corner, Trump is certainly scraping the barrel, but as Bergmann and Boot point out, “If you committed a crime and had one of the nation’s top cops coming for you, wouldn’t you try anything, no matter how risky, to get out of it?”
And, to add insult to injury, much how Deep Throat advised reporter Bob Woodward to “follow the money” during the Watergate scandal, Mueller is now pursuing the financial trail.
According to the FT, Deutsche Bank handed over records of its dealings with the Trump Organisation to the special counsel last week.
And, as Deutsche and Mueller’s office have both refused to comment on the matter, it is impossible to know what information the ex-FBI chief has asked for. But, over the past 20 years, the president has done billions of dollars’ worth of business with the bank.
Mueller’s latest move is likely to seriously antagonise the president. Over the summer, he said that he would view the special counsel looking into his personal finances, unrelated to Russia, as “a violation” of his job mandate. But, Mueller’s remit allows him to pursue “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
That news came a few days after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. As a private citizen, the former general had illegally discussed lifting sanctions on Moscow before taking office.
And, his charge sheet suggests that he had only been following orders from more senior members of the transition team, begging the question as to who? Could such instructions have come all the way from the president himself?
Flynn also revealed that he is co-operating with Mueller’s Russia probe, and, as Ed Luce writes in the FT, the most “ominous” part of Flynn’s plea bargain is how lenient it is.
He could have been charged with several other counts such as undisclosed work for a foreign government, suggesting that the ex-national security advisor has something really “juicy” to cough up.
Perhaps he can advance Mueller’s case that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, or maybe he can help the special counsel prove that the president tried to obstruct justice? Both are impeachable offences.
James Comey, the former head of the FBI, already testified that Trump asked him to drop his investigation into Flynn, and were the latter to reveal why, “that could seal the case,” writes Luce.
After all, as the Watergate scandal revealed, the “cover up is often worse than the crime: Obstruction of justice was the first item on the impeachment charge sheet against Richard Nixon.”
However, even if this proves to be the case, we are still very far away from an impeachment: Mueller can indict anyone except for a sitting president. That task belongs to Congress, and as it currently lies in Republican territory, it is extremely unlikely.
And, of course, the president always has his Trump card to play (pardon the pun): he could cut the head off this snake and axe Mueller. Whilst this would certainly smack of obstruction of justice, he had no qualms getting rid of Comey when he refused to stop looking into the matter.
In fact, he has already threatened to do so, begging the question: what does this president have to hide? As the old cliche goes, there is no smoke without fire. Could parts of the infamous Russia dossier be true after all?
According to the explosive yet unsubstantiated report penned by a former British spy, the Russian president not only helped the property tycoon to win last year’s U.S. election, but he “has been actively cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least 5 years.”
Putin’s aim: to “disrupt, divide and discredit” the entire western democratic order in favour of Moscow.
Although parts of the dossier have been impossible to prove, since taking office Trump has certainly turned the international world order on its head.
In the past year alone, he has engaged in a dangerous game of nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea, destabilised the Middle East by declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s new capital and, condemned future generations on earth to dangerous climate change by pulling the US out of the Paris pact.
Is the president unhinged, or is he simply carrying out his handler’s orders?
In many ways, Mueller’s investigation is just warming up, and it will be interesting to see what secrets the special counsel uncovers. Although there are many unanswered questions, one thing is very clear: Congress needs to safeguard the special counsel, and let it be known, that this erratic president is not above the law.
“Failing to protect Mueller is not just moral cowardice,” argue Bergmann and Boot: “It’s also leaving America’s national security exposed. If we fail to get to the bottom of what happened, then Russia will not just have succeeded in undermining our democratic process, but in undermining American justice.”
Moreover, it will also leave the U.S. open to being attacked again and again by other foreign adversaries, leaving many Americans wondering: who does this government really serve: the Kremlin or the people?