Either I’m misguided in my reading of the trajectory of the Mueller investigation, or there’s a whole lot of foolish talk in the wake of the new Manafort filing.
That possibly foolish talk speculates that because Mueller has issued no indictments of any Americans for criminal conspiracy between the Trump gang and the Russians (still usually called “collusion,” for reasons I don’t understand), that may well mean there will be none. (All the indictments of Americans have been for other things—like lying and, in the case of Manafort, a variety of pre-Trump crimes that seemed to make up much of his career.)
The idea is that the absence of such indictments for conspiracy – e.g. of Paul Manafort, or Roger Stone – may well mean that on the crucial score of conspiring with our Russian adversary, Mueller may have come up dry.
I can’t disprove that hypothesis. But it sure seems wrong to me.
It seems wrong because what I’ve thought I’ve seen is Mueller methodically building an edifice in which the last piece (or pieces) will spell out the web of conspiracy. (And I’m hardly the only one who has been reading Mueller’s filings this way.)
So many of the indictments Mueller has already brought point in the direction of conspiracy: the Manafort-Kilimnik connection (that goes to the “heart” of the Mueller investigation); the Roger Stone conduct with Wikileaks; the Trump Tower meeting; as well as all the people in the Trump gang who have lied not about all sorts of things, but specifically about their contacts with the Russians.
Watching the string of disclosures by Mueller over the past year and a half – through indictments and court filings – is has almost seemed like he’s been preparing to complete the bridge whose foundations he has laid on each side. He’s indicted the Russians, and described how the Russians interfered to hurt Clinton and help Trump. And when indicting Americans, Mueller has been including some structural beams that stretch toward the Russians.
The final piece would be spelling out how all the players on the American side – including quite possibly Flynn, Manafort, Stone, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and also Donald Trump himself – were open to the conspiracy, sought the conspiracy, acted in furtherance of the conspiracy, in violation of the laws of the United States.
(These laws, it seems pretty clear, include getting illegal help in an election from a foreign actor, dealing in the stolen goods that were the hacked emails, and perpetrating fraud against the United States.)
I don’t know why Mueller has put off any such indictments. I don’t know if it means anything that the grand jury hasn’t met for some weeks (are the indictments already brought but kept under seal?). I don’t know if the end is imminent, despite so many lines of investigation that have been uncovered but not brought to completion.
I do worry.
But I suspect that Mueller is planning a finale that’s like the end of the fireworks show on the 4th of July. My bet is that Mueller’s final move will be a doozy, a bunch of bombshells that deliver finality with no time left on the clock for Trump and his hirelings to prevent him completing his work.
But if the people talking today about the possibility that the continuing absence of any indictments on the conspiracy question indicates the possibility that he’s not found anything appropriate to charge—Well, if that’s the correct interpretation I’ve pretty thoroughly misunderstood how Mueller was doing his work.