Robert Mueller’s net closes in on team Trump

The in­quiry into Rus­sian elec­tion in­flu­ence is reach­ing a con­clu­sion and edg­ing closer to the pres­i­dent’s fam­ily, as David Char­ter writes.

The Southland Times - - World -

‘‘Lock her up, that’s right ... If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail to­day.’’

Michael Flynn, who would go on to be­come United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, was in full self-right­eous mode when he egged on chants about Hil­lary Clin­ton at the 2016 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

That was be­fore the re­tired three-star gen­eral lied to FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors about his Rus­sian con­tacts, leav­ing him fac­ing his own spell in­side. This week, we learnt how he seized the chance of a get-out-of-jail card.

Flynn, 60, was a key mem­ber of Trump’s cam­paign team. He has been in­ter­viewed 19 times by Robert Mueller, the spe­cial coun­sel over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ‘‘Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence with the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and re­lated mat­ters’’.

The heav­ily redacted sen­tenc­ing memo re­leased by Mueller be­fore Flynn’s ren­dezvous with a judge on De­cem­ber 18 has added to the im­pres­sion of a net slowly closing around Trump’s in­ner­cir­cle as the 18-month Rus­sia in­quiry nears its con­clu­sion. The memo sug­gested that sev­eral lines of in­ves­ti­ga­tion were ac­tive, al­though the de­tails were hid­den from pub­lic view.

Fur­ther tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses into the di­rec­tion of the se­cre­tive, and so far leak-proof, in­ves­ti­ga­tion will come to­day, with a let­ter to the judge who, on De­cem­ber 12, will sen­tence 52-year-old Michael Co­hen, the pres­i­dent’s for­mer per­sonal lawyer. The let­ter will out­line more de­tails of Co­hen’s co-op­er­a­tion with Mueller’s of­fice.

Co­hen pleaded guilty to sev­eral crimes, in­clud­ing cam­paign fi­nance fraud, telling a court he was or­dered to break the law to make hush-money pay­ments to two women who claimed to have had af­fairs with Trump, 72.

Also to­day, Mueller’s team will in­form a judge in Wash­ing­ton about al­leged breaches of a plea agree­ment by Paul Manafort, Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man. The 69-year-old is ac­cused of ly­ing to pros­e­cu­tors af­ter promis­ing to co-op­er­ate.

Mueller, 74, a for­mer Ma­rine dec­o­rated for his ser­vice in Viet­nam and di­rec­tor of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was ap­pointed spe­cial coun­sel by Rod Rosen­stein, Amer­ica’s deputy at­tor­ney­gen­eral. Jeff Ses­sions, who was the na­tion’s at­tor­ney-gen­eral un­til last month, ruled him­self out of the Rus­sia probe be­cause he had been part of Trump’s elec­tion cam­paign team.

The Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion has al­ready led to charges against 36 peo­ple and com­pa­nies, on a to­tal of 192 sep­a­rate counts, with guilty pleas from seven of those in­dicted and one trial con­vic­tion – Manafort, who was found guilty in Au­gust on eight charges of fi­nan­cial fraud un­re­lated to Rus­sian elec­tion in­flu­ence.

Trump has made his views of the in­quiry plain in fre­quent tweets, at­tack­ing it as a ‘‘witch hunt’’ and a ‘‘hoax’’.

He has de­clined to ap­pear be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and in­stead an­swered a se­ries of writ­ten ques­tions. He re­cently praised Roger Stone, one of his cam­paign ad­vis­ers, for his ‘‘guts’’ in re­fus­ing to co-op­er­ate with pros­e­cu­tors.

A plea deal was also turned down by Stone’s as­so­ciate, Jerome Corsi, who has been in­ves­ti­gated as an al­leged in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween Stone and Wik­iLeaks, which pub­lished emails dur­ing the cam­paign that had been stolen from the Demo­cratic Party by Rus­sian agents.

The Wik­iLeaks con­nec­tion ap­pears to be a sig­nif­i­cant strand of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Wik­iLeaks started pub­lish­ing emails stolen from John Podesta, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man, less than an hour af­ter the emer­gence of the Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape on which Trump boasted about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women.

The Demo­cratic email leak helped to take the fo­cus away from the dam­ag­ing tape, which had al­most scup­pered Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. If Mueller could prove co-or­di­na­tion with the Rus­sians over the re­lease, then that could lead to con­spir­acy charges.

An­other strand is the link be­tween any Trump busi­ness deals and pos­si­ble favours for the Rus­sians. Co­hen re­vealed as part of his plea deal in court last week that Trump was in­volved in a prop­erty pro­ject in Moscow to build a ‘‘Trump Tower’’ while run­ning for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported that Trump’s com­pany planned to give a US$50 mil­lion pent­house in the new sky­scraper to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Trump, who tweeted in Jan­uary 2017 that ‘‘I HAVE NOTH­ING TO DO WITH RUS­SIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTH­ING!’’, said last week af­ter Co­hen’s rev­e­la­tion that ‘‘he’s ly­ing about a pro­ject that ev­ery­body knew about. We were very open with it . . . There would have been noth­ing wrong if I did do it ... It was my busi­ness. So he’s ly­ing very sim­ply to get a re­duced sen­tence, OK?’’

Flynn has pro­vided in­for­ma­tion about in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Trump’s tran­si­tion team and Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions he had with Sergey Kislyak, then the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the US, in De­cem­ber 2016.

These in­cluded a dis­cus­sion about lift­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Rus­sia and ask­ing Moscow to de­lay a United Nations se­cu­rity coun­cil res­o­lu­tion on Is­raeli set­tle­ments.

‘‘A very se­nior mem­ber of the tran­si­tion team di­rected’’ Flynn to con­tact Kislyak, ac­cord­ing to the pros­e­cu­tion in Flynn’s ini­tial court ap­pear­ance last year.

It is widely be­lieved that the very se­nior mem­ber could be Jared Kush­ner, the pres­i­dent’s son-in-law, who at­tended one of Flynn’s meet­ings with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador. Kush­ner is also un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for his role in a meet­ing at Trump Tower ar­ranged by Don­ald Trump Jr in June 2016 with a Rus­sian lawyer who promised ‘‘dirt’’ on Clin­ton.

As the in­quiry con­tin­ues, edg­ing closer to Trump and his fam­ily, Democrats are lead­ing calls for leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect Mueller from in­ter­fer­ence by Matthew Whi­taker, the re­cently ap­pointed act­ing at­tor­ney-gen­eral, who is a strong critic of the in­quiry.

Whi­taker has as­sumed over­sight of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion from Rosen­stein. Wash­ing­ton is abuzz with spec­u­la­tion that this is part of a White House plot to clip the in­quiry’s wings, per­haps by Whi­taker starv­ing it of re­sources.

Mueller’s fi­nal re­port will be pre­sented to the act­ing at­tor­ney­gen­eral, who will de­cide what to make pub­lic. – The Times

The Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion has al­ready led to charges against 36 peo­ple and com­pa­nies, on a to­tal of 192 sep­a­rate counts, with guilty pleas from seven of those in­dicted and one trial con­vic­tion.


Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ‘‘Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence with the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and re­lated mat­ters’’ is closing in around United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, as, one by one, it picks off for­mer as­so­ciates.

Michael Co­hen, the pres­i­dent’s for­mer per­sonal lawyer and fixer, has been co-op­er­at­ing with the Mueller in­quiry.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, is ac­cused of ly­ing to pros­e­cu­tors af­ter promis­ing to co-op­er­ate.

For­mer United States na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn has cut a deal with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

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