“Finish It The Hell Up!”

“Finish It The Hell Up!”

Those words were spoken by U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), expressing frustration over what he sees as the slow pace of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Gowdy’s words reflect a perception among many on the right, fed and amplified by the likes of Fox News, that Mueller’s team is dawdling, and that a lack of charges against the President by now means unquestionably that there is nothing there. Because of the constant repetition of this misconception in some circles, some clarification is needed.

First, Gowdy’s statement is ironic, since the House Judiciary Committee, led by Trey Gowdy, spent 30 months investigating Hillary Clinton’s possible role in the Benghazi attack between May 8, 2014 and December 12, 2016. While Benghazi was a serious incident, it was far less consequential than a U.S. President being assisted by a hostile foreign adversary to get elected. We are currently in the 14th month of the Mueller investigation, which began on May 17, 2017. And as Special Counsel investigations go, this one has taken a relatively short length of time thus far. The chart below was published by the Washington Post.

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It is also important to look at the types of crimes that Mueller is likely investigating. Steve Bannon reportedly said “this is all about money laundering.” I believe that Trump knowingly or unknowingly laundered money for Russian oligarchs and Russian organized crime figures for decades. There is an abundance of evidence of Trump real estate deals with Russians in which Trump properties were purchased at an inflated price and quickly resold for a significantly lower price, and in which properties were paid for with all cash – telltale signs of money laundering. An example would be the sight-unseen sale of a Palm Beach mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev (whose yacht and plane coincidentally appeared numerous times near Trump campaign events).

Money laundering is an intentionally complex and opaque crime. That’s the point of money laundering: the goal is to disguise the original illegitimate source of the money by processing it – often through multiple opaque transactions, shell companies, etc. – in a way that ultimately makes the money appear legitimate (even if at a loss – at least now it can be used). Money laundering is therefore an extremely time-consuming crime to investigate, and this case likely involves many multiple incidents of it.

In Russia, Putin demands a cut of all illicit money that the Russian mafia and oligarchs take in. If Trump were laundering money (a felony) for them, Putin would absolutely have a long and thorough awareness of that. Such knowledge – far more than any alleged salacious video from the Moscow Ritz Carlton – is likely the “kompromat” (compromising material) that Putin has on Trump, and with which Putin may in fact be blackmailing the President of the United States.

In addition to a lengthy history of money laundering – a clear motive for Trump to cooperate with Russia – Mueller’s team must also look into evidence of cooperation between the Trump Campaign / Trump Transition Team / White House and a foreign government run by a former KGB officer who knows how to cover his tracks. Potential witnesses and participants from Russia cannot be subpoenaed, and also know that they could potentially be murdered or jailed if they choose to offer evidence or testimony to Mueller. Those witnesses must therefore be presumed inaccessible.

Even so, you might say, if Trump has been involved in any criminal activity and/or collusion with Russia, Mueller must certainly have evidence of it by now – over a year into the investigation – so Mueller’s silence clearly indicates that he has found no such evidence. I believe that Mueller currently has a ton of evidence against a number of people from Trump’s campaign and possibly against the President himself. But consider what you do when playing poker. Do you pick up your hand and announce excitedly “Hey, I just got two pair! If I get another ace or king. I’ll have a full house!” Or do you keep your mouth shut, betray no emotion, and move calmly forward?

Mueller disclosing the evidence that he has collected at this point could compromise the rest of the investigation in multiple ways. It could tip off wrongdoers about who is providing information and what that information is. It could enable the President to know which facts not to lie about if he is ever interviewed by Mueller, and it could give him time to develop a plausible explanation for those particular facts. It could result in some witnesses being paid off, or if the participants involved are dangerous enough, it could result in witnesses being killed.

Some Republicans have stated the Mueller should let Congress know what evidence has been gathered so far, to prove to them, as part of their oversight responsibility, that the investigation is pursuing real issues and not simply wasting taxpayer money on, as the President calls it, a “witch hunt.” This is a legitimate argument.

Yet many of the same Republicans leading this charge, like U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) – a former member of the Trump Transition Team and currently Chair of the House Intelligence Committee (who should theoretically know better than anyone about the proper handling of sensitive information) – have proven repeatedly that they cannot treat the information with the care that it deserves. Upon getting key information, Nunes has instead chosen to run to tell the President what he has learned, or has called a press conference to be the first to put a spin on the information. Both of these activities jeopardize the investigation by informing potential suspects about an ongoing investigation.

I want to see the Meuller investigation completed as soon as possible – likely for a different reason than Trey Gowdy does. But I also know that what Mueller is likely investigating is extremely complex, involves years of activity long pre-dating the 2016 campaign, involves witnesses who can never be questioned, and involves a Congress whose members cannot all be relied upon to put justice above partisan or selfish interests. So I force myself to be patient and believe that justice will prevail.

Of all the people in this situation, I trust Robert Mueller the most. Until the President and Fox News began their slanderous drumbeat to tarnish his name and reputation, Mueller was known to Republicans and Democrats alike as a brilliant and solid law enforcement official of unwavering integrity. That was why he was approved for his current responsibilities by both parties in an otherwise deeply divided House and Senate. Mueller is still the same man that he was before the smear campaign began, and I will trust whatever outcome he and his team arrive at, even if that outcome is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by the President.

– rob rünt

Thoughts on Independence Day, 2018

Thoughts on Independence Day, 2018

On this Fourth of July, 2018, a brief check-in on the state of our nation’s independence seems in order:

  • In March of 2016, Paul Manafort became Chairman of the Trump Campaign. Manafort’s most recent job was working for pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
  • In May of 2016, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump Campaign boasted in a London bar to an Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • In June of 2016, a respected former British intelligence agent, serving as a subcontractor doing opposition research on Donald Trump (which was ultimately paid for by the Clinton Campaign), uncovered an unthinkable plot by Russia to help elect Donald Trump, who the Kremlin believed they could blackmail. Out of a sense of responsibility to a British ally, he reported his findings to the FBI.
  • After hacked Clinton e-mails were made public leading into the July 2016 Democratic Convention, Australia told U.S. intelligence of the conversation between George Popadopoulos and their diplomat.
  • In 2017, the FBI, CIA, and NSA determined that Russia had in fact interfered in the 2016 election, with the goals of sowing discord and chaos, dismantling western alliances, and electing Donald Trump President.
  • On April 27, 2018, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee concluded its investigation into Trump-Russia, asserting that there was no evidence of cooperation between the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin. Democrats on the Committee issued a rebuttal, stating that no such conclusion could be drawn and that the committee leadership had avoided pursuing key evidence and witnesses.
  • Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Devin Nunes, are continuing to investigate the possibility of inappropriate or illegal behavior by the agencies investigating Trump-Russia.
  • The President has acted in ways that alienate our western allies, has urged that Russia be brought back into the G7, and has expressed little more than a lukewarm willingness to continue in NATO (after previously declaring it obsolete). The only time that NATO has taken military action was to help the U.S. after we were attacked on 9/11.
  • To date, President Trump has done little to solicit, require or authorize actions that could prevent Russia from meddling in the 2018 midterm elections.
  • As recently as June 28, 2018, the President tweeted “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! “
  • President Trump regularly calls the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller a “witch hunt.” In a little over a year, the investigation has produced five guilty pleas and 17 indictments, including Paul Manafort.
  • Yesterday, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee announced its agreement with U.S. intelligence that Russia did interfere in the 2016 to help elect Donald Trump.
  • Fox News, Alex Jones, and numerous other right wing news sources use their freedom of speech/freedom of the press to put out a daily diet of “alternative facts” in which the President can do no wrong, and in which the FBI, the U.S. intelligence community, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are part of a “deep state” conspiracy to destroy the President – and along with him all hope of an American government that truly serves the people.
  • Our nation is deeply divided and misinformation is rampant.
  • Currently, seven Senators from the Appropriations Committee (responsible for allocating tax dollars to U.S. government agencies and departments) and one House Appropriations Committee member – all Republicans – are in Moscow. No Democrats have been invited. The extent to which these legislators have addressed election meddling has been a brief, passing, and milktoast “one should not interfere in elections.”
  • On July 16, 2018, President Trump will meet alone with Vladimir Putin.

Today, we Americans celebrate our independence.

– rob rünt