We have merely seen Mueller's opening act
Remember back in May when Americans breathed a sigh of relief that Robert Mueller, the hard-nosed investigator with an impeccable reputation, was given the power to independently investigate the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election? That relief was justified on Monday, Oct. 30, when Mueller shifted the investigation into a higher gear. And, it ain't over yet.
Sure, he hit targets close to Trump with formal indictments against his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s right-hand man, Richard Gates. No one was really surprised at this. Anyone who was paying attention knew that the two men were laundering enormous sums of money from their Ukrainian and Russian adventures. The only surprise is that Mueller's team was skilled enough to track down evidence on a trail designed by money-laundering experts to be impossible to follow. They also did so very fast - this gang is good at their jobs.
“But, so what?” Team Trump responded. “So, what?” if a guy Trump knew briefly (over twenty years) did some questionable stuff (clearly illegal stuff that was counter to U.S. interests) long before he became campaign manager (some counts document ongoing illegal activity right into 2017)? And it literally had nothing to do with the campaign, it was nothing more than Manafort's bad judgment, according to Trump. The worst that could be said is that Trump made a mistake in bringing the guy onto his campaign. Furthermore, any crimes Manafort committed made no connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, which is the basis for Mueller's mandate to investigate. That was the argument almost instantly put forward by the White House.
But don't take your eye off the pea in this shell game.
Soon after the White House declared victory because the indictments showed no connection with Russia, Mueller (in an astounding move) chose to reveal a plea deal begun months earlier that proved precisely the opposite. Seriously, you couldn't write a movie script this tight.
Mueller’s big "reveal" moment was George Papadopoulos. He apparently has already plead guilty and has been lavishly assisting the special investigation for some time. The evidence revealed in this plea deal clearly demonstrates that both members of the campaign, and people thought to be proxies of the Russian government, were trying to connect. Moreover, they showed clear understanding that what they were doing was wrong. So, they were attempting to be secretive.
The Papadopoulos guilty plea was a surprise to literally everyone except Team Mueller. That's an amazing feat in a federal government that has been leaking badly. Mueller’s extremely effective gang of lawyers are honorable and loyal to their mission.
Papadopoulos was engaged by the Trump campaign as a foreign policy "expert", despite being miles south of thirty years old, and possessive of no particularly relevant experience or qualifications. He seems to have been engaged nearly full-time, cultivating Russian connections and shuttling messages back and forth on behalf of both the Trump team and Russian government proxies. He flung email chains far up the ladder, and was in constant contact with the very highest ranking members of the campaign about Russian interest. It doesn't get balder than that.
I don't know what is sadder, that an American campaign stooped so low, or that they were so inept, that they screwed it all up. Perhaps it's saddest that they thought the U.S. public and its institutions are foolish enough to be permanently fooled by this amateur-hour campaign of lightweights and grifters.
But I do know that the U.S. public is much better off for having a powerful, fearless special prosecutor like Robert Mueller on the job.
Mueller's position has a legendary place in U.S. history. Another special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, was the key figure in bringing down President Richard Nixon. Cox was getting very close to naming Nixon in the criminal conspiracy that the president himself had launched to get re-elected. Scared into truly stupid actions, Nixon forced Cox's firing after two principled men refused to do so. Both those men would, in turn, be fired. That was the moment that Republicans conclusively turned against Nixon. It's hard to fire a president of your own party, but Nixon made it impossible for Republicans not to act.
Trump has said he thinks Mueller's investigation is a witch hunt, and that he has the right to fire Mueller. No Republican has openly commented on the investigation's progress. Trump could fairly interpret this silence as Republicans not taking sides in a Mueller-trump showdown, or even as tacit support for the president against Mueller. That's dangerous for Mueller, who would need Congress to punish Trump for subverting the course of justice. It would be great to have some principled Republicans stand up to Trump, in the same way a few brave men stood up to Nixon.
On the other hand, actual indictments make it a lot more dangerous for Trump to fire Mueller. The Oct. 30 indictments prove that Trump's accusation that Mueller is baselessly fishing are self-serving .... what's the word?... carp.
And remember, this isn't nearly the end of Mueller's investigation. It's merely a signal he is dead serious.
Dr. Helen Delfeld holds a doctorate in political science, specializing in women/gender studies and international politics. She worked as a human rights activist and professor for over a decade before turning to public education and writing. She currently teaches political theory to inmates at a maximum security prison.