Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Larger And Further Along

Garrett M. Graff reports in Wired that the Mueller investigation is working under the radar and in the tall grass.

Trump claimed in a tweet over the weekend that the controversial Nunes memo “totally vindicates” him, clearing him of the cloud of the Russia investigation that has hung over his administration for a year now.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, if anything, the Mueller investigation appears to have been picking up steam in the past three weeks—and homing in on a series of targets.

Last summer, I wrote an analysis exploring the “known unknowns” of the Russia investigation—unanswered but knowable questions regarding Mueller’s probe. Today, given a week that saw immense sturm und drang over Devin Nunes’ memo—a document that seems purposefully designed to obfuscate and muddy the waters around Mueller’s investigation—it seems worth asking the opposite question: What are the known knowns of the Mueller investigation, and where might it be heading?

The first thing we know is that we know it is large.

We speak about the “Mueller probe” as a single entity, but it’s important to understand that there are no fewer than five (known) separate investigations under the broad umbrella of the special counsel’s office—some threads of these investigations may overlap or intersect, some may be completely free-standing, and some potential targets may be part of multiple threads. But it’s important to understand the different “buckets” of Mueller’s probe.

As special counsel, Mueller has broad authority to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” a catch-all phrase that allows him to pursue other criminality he may stumble across in the course of the investigation. As the acting attorney general overseeing Mueller, Rod Rosenstein has the ability to grant Mueller the ability to expand his investigation as necessary and has been briefed regularly on how the work is unfolding. Yet even without being privy to those conversations, we have a good sense of the purview of his investigation.

[…]

There’s fresh reason to believe that this is an active criminal investigation; lost amid the news of the Nunes memo on Friday was a court ruling in a lawsuit where I and a handful of other reporters from outlets like CNN and Daily Caller are suing the Justice Department to release the “Comey memos”: The ruling held that, based on the FBI’s private testimony to the court—including evidence from Michael Dreeben, one of the leaders of the special counsel’s office—releasing the memos would compromise the investigation. “Having heard this, the Court is now fully convinced that disclosure ‘could reasonably be expected to interfere’ with that ongoing investigation,” the judge wrote in our case.

Even the most generous interpretation of the Nunes memo—which has been widely debunked by serious analysts—raises questions only around the fourth thread of this investigation, insofar as it focuses on Carter Page, the one-time foreign policy adviser who appears to be ancillary to most of the rest of the Russia probes. All of the other avenues remain unsullied by the Nunes memo.

The second thing that we know is that large parts of the investigation remain out of sight. While we’ve seen four indictments or guilty pleas, they only involve threads one (money laundering) and four (Russian campaign contacts). We haven’t seen any public moves or charges by Mueller’s team regarding the information operations, the active cyber intrusions, or the obstruction of justice investigation.

We also know there’s significant relevant evidence that’s not yet public: Both Flynn and Papadopoulos traded cooperation and information as part of their respective plea deals, and none of the information that they provided has become public yet.

We also know that, despite the relative period of quiet since Flynn’s guilty plea in December, Mueller is moving fast. While parts of the case will likely unfold and continue for years, particularly if some defendants head for trial, Mueller has in recent weeks been interviewing senior and central figures, like Comey and Sessions. He’s also begun working to interview President Trump himself. Given that standard procedure would be to interview the central figure in an investigation last—when all the evidence is gathered—it seems likely that such interest means that Mueller is confident he knows what he needs to know for the obstruction case, at least.

All of these pieces of public evidence, the “known knowns,” point to one conclusion: Bob Mueller has a busy few weeks ahead of him—and the sturm und drang of the last week will likely only intensify as more of the investigation comes into public view.

One of the reasons Trump and his lawyers are using every legal trick and maneuver to keep Mueller off his game points to the fact that while the public may not be aware of how big and deep the investigation is going, they certainly do.

HT to CLW.