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The investigation: Where we are to date

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We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller’s appointment as Special Counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney-General.

The news these days breaks with such breathtaking fury that it can be hard to discern just where things stand. So I thought this would be a good time to take stock.

What we know, for sure and no matter what else is happening, is that Mueller is proceeding relentlessly. There’s no reason to assume otherwise. His office is notoriously leak-proof, so we don’t know much about what he’s finding, apart from the very few times he’s made announcements, such as the indictments of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. We know, also, from the charges against these individuals, the general areas Mueller is investigating: conspiracy against the United States (by colluding with a foreign government to influence our elections), conspiracy to launder money, failure to report on key meetings and bank transactions, and false statements, AKA lies.

No one has, as yet, been accused of obstruction of justice. But that’s because obstruction is a difficult case to prove in court, and the four individuals who already have been charged are low-hanging fruit for which Mueller evidently has all the proof he needs to send them to jail, unless they cooperate.

What we don’t know, but strongly suggest, is that Mueller is zeroing in on Trump’s son, Don. Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and possibly others in his inner circle, a circumstance said to infuriate Donald Trump. We suspect, furthermore, that all this is relevant to Mueller making a case that Trump himself has committed felonies, similar to those performed by the four indicted individuals, and probably including other crimes, most notably obstruction of justice: Trump’s repeated, and rather clumsy, attempts to halt the investigation in its tracks, e.g. by firing James Comey.

We know, too, that, despite the clumsiness of these attempts, the Republican Party is standing by their man. We have assumed, for more than a year, that a “red line” exists, in theory, beyond which sane Republicans finally will desert Trump and support justice and law. But we know—sadly—that the GOP is no closer to that red line than they were six months ago, and probably they’re further away from it.

Then there’s the money. Trump famously declared his own red line last December, when, asked by New York Times reporter Peter Baker if “looking at your finances and your family finances…is that a red line”, and Trump replied, I would say yeah. I would say yes.”

So that’s a known known. What we don’t know is whether Trump is simply resistant to outside scrutiny of his finances for philosophical reasons, or if he actually has something to hide. Is Mueller looking at Trump’s money trail? We know that, last December, Mueller “subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s financial dealings with Deutsche Bank,” and we can assume, with some surety, that Mueller is looking at other deals between banks and Trump’s various companies. Is Mueller also looking into Trump’s taxes—the ones he refuses to make public? It now appears likely special counsel Robert Mueller has crossed what President Donald Trump has said is a clear red line by gaining access to the president’s tax returns as part of a broadening investigation looking for links between Trump’s business interests, his presidential campaign and Russia,” U.S. News and World Report wrote.

It’s important to keep in mind these basic facts of what we know and what we reasonably suspect to be true. It can be difficult to keep one’s eye on the ball, though, amidst the clutter and obstruction of Republican efforts to throw up smokescreens: the Devin Nunes memo, Benghazi, Hillary’s emails, the sexual affairs of FBI agents, alleged tapping of Trump Tower phones, and on and on to the latest GOP faux-scandal du jour. The Republican attack machine, which is basically a cabal of Fox “News,” Republican operatives, dark money and Trump family members, never ceases to amaze for the vapidity and desperateness of their counter-attacks.

None of it will work. Bob Mueller wakes up every morning and does his job, as does his staff. They don’t care about shifting developments in the news; they care about facts, and these they gather with the plodding relentlessness of lawyers going about their cases. Finally, what else do we know? Trump still wants to fire Rosenstein and Mueller. He has no proof that doing so will do him any good, except to assuage his ego. What we don’t know, and can’t know until and if it happens, is how Congressional Republicans will react. Will they tolerate a Rosenstein firing? In my opinion, yes. Will they tolerate a Mueller firing? I think we’re going to find out.

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