Mueller Is Still Investigating

So, there is a lot of news about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation this morning. Let's take it one piece at a time.

1. Carol E. Lee at NBC News: Flynn Kept FBI Interview Concealed from White House, Trump. There are three key takeaways from this story.

First, that the White House didn't know that Michael Flynn met with the FBI until two days after it happened, and only then because then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates told White House Counsel Don McGahn — a conversation during which Yates warned McGahn that Flynn had (supposedly) lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, thus putting him in a "serious compromise situation."

Second, that Mueller has already completed a number of interviews with high-ranking officials:
By the end of 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller's team had spoken with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, former FBI Director James Comey, and numerous members of Trump's campaign and White House inner circle. Flynn pleaded guilty last month to lying to the FBI during his January 24 interview and is cooperating with the Russia investigation.

NBC News also has learned that former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who informed the White House about Flynn's interview two days after it took place, has cooperated with the special counsel. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was allegedly asked by Trump to lean on Comey to drop his investigation, has also been interviewed, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

One person familiar with the matter described Pompeo, Coats, and Rogers as "peripheral witnesses" to the Comey firing.
So Mueller is zeroing in on possible obstruction, which is no surprise. Renato Mariotti, a candidate for Illinois Attorney General and former federal prosecutor, notes that, also per NBC News, "Mueller will interview Bannon by the end of the month and is seeking to interview Trump. This tells us that Mueller is close to wrapping up his obstruction investigation, given that he's preparing to interview the key witnesses."

If it's accurate that we're nearing the end of the obstruction piece of the investigation, I find it both curious and consternating that the name Mike Pence isn't showing up anywhere on the radar. I'll come back to that.

Third and finally: One other piece of info to note from the NBC story: "One of the two FBI agents who interviewed Flynn was Peter Strzok, whom Mueller removed from the Russia investigation last summer after the Justice Department's inspector general's office found he'd written text messages to a colleague criticizing Trump, according to people familiar with the matter."

Strzok is one of the two FBI employees who texted unfavorably about Trump and has served as the centerpiece of a Republican conspiracy theory about bias corrupting Mueller's team. Just yesterday, Senator Ron Johnson appeared on Fox News to peddle some bullshit about Strzok and Lisa Page, the FBI lawyer with whom he was texting, communicating about a "secret society" working to oust Trump.

Johnson: —that secret society? We have, we have an informant, that's talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There's, there's so much smoke here; there's so much suspicion—

Fox News Anchor Bret Baier: Boy, let's stop there. A secret society; secret meetings off-site of the Justice Department.

Johnson: Correct.

Baier: And you have an informant saying that.

Johnson: Yes.

Baier: Is there anything more about that?

Johnson: No, we have to dig into it.
Cool interview.

I point this out because the Republicans will continue to try to use Strzok to discredit Mueller, and we'll probably be hearing a lot of nonsense about how the Flynn investigation was corrupt since Strzok did the interview.

2. Katelyn Polantz at CNN: [Content Note: Video may autoplay at link] New Signs Gates May Be Negotiating with Mueller's Team.
Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has quietly added a prominent white-collar attorney, Tom Green, to his defense team, signaling that Gates' approach to his not-guilty plea could be changing behind the scenes.

Green, a well-known Washington defense lawyer, was seen at special counsel Robert Mueller's office twice last week. CNN is told by a source familiar with the matter that Green has joined Gates' team.

...Green's involvement suggests that there is an ongoing negotiation between the defendant's team and the prosecutors. At this stage, with Gates' charges filed and bail set, talks could concern the charges and Gates' plea. The defense and prosecution are currently working together on discovery of evidence.
Gates is a longtime associate of Paul Manafort and was arrested and charged with him in October.

So, let me pause here to repeat myself: The optimist's view of this news is that it's reassuring, as it seems as though Mueller is being very methodical and deliberate while also moving as quickly as he can.

The cynic's view is that these strategic leaks are designed to reassure us that something meaningful is still underway, and gives The Resistance a basket in which to put its hope for accountability eggs, thus deterring civil unrest while Trump and the Republican Party continue to usher in authoritarian rule.

No matter your position, optimistic or cynical, we all need to be concerned about how, the longer this investigation drags on, the worse the best possible outcome gets. Even if Mueller's investigation results in Trump's removal (or resignation) from office somewhere down the road, which is still incredibly unlikely, how much irreversible damage will be done in the interim, with a vice-president and his entire party positioned to protect every erosion of our norms and liberties?

A vice-president whose name still isn't anywhere near this investigation, despite the fact that he was hand-picked by Manafort, led the presidential transition team, damn well knew what Flynn was up to, and continues to be right in the thick of everything this corrupt administration is doing.

So, yes, news news news about Mueller's investigation. But can it mean anything, if it doesn't touch Pence? Will it ever result in anything meaningful at all, or will it have just served — intentionally or effectively — as a distraction, as a way of convincing us that the rule of law still stands in this country, while the president and his party quietly dismantled it?

Because the stories of corruption, demanding investigation, never end. This morning alone, there are two new reports related to the firing of James Comey:

1. Caitlin MacNeal at TPM: Trump Asked FBI Official Who He Voted for in 2016 Election. "During a May 2016 meeting in the Oval Office shortly after James Comey was fired as FBI director, [Donald] Trump asked the new acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, who he voted for in the 2016 election... McCabe and Trump met more than once in the week after Comey was fired, according to the New York Times. In one of those meetings, Trump asked who McCabe voted for, to which McCabe replied that he did not vote, current and former officials told the Washington Post. Trump then brought up the fact that McCabe's wife received a campaign contribution from a super PAC associated with former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2015 for her Virginia state senate race, according to the Post."

2. Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky at the Washington Post: FBI Director, Under Pressure to Make Changes, Is Replacing Comey Aides. "FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who has been under political pressure to remove top officials at the bureau, is filling two senior positions previously held by people who served under former director James B. Comey. Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia who is acting head of the Justice Department's national security division, has been selected to be the FBI's next general counsel, according to three people familiar with the matter. He replaces James Baker, who was reassigned late last year. ...Wray also will replace his chief of staff, Jim Rybicki, with Zachary J. Harmon, a colleague from the law firm where Wray was a partner before joining the bureau."

One thing that happened nearly two years ago. One thing that is happening now. There is so much to investigate — and it will never end, if the investigation never ends.

Trump just continues to oversee an administration rife with abuses of power, undermining our democratic institutions and norms at every turn.

If this investigation is to have any meaning, if there are ever to be consequences for anything, Mueller needs to draw a line. Sooner rather than later. Of course these things take time, and there must be a balance between thoroughness and haste.

But this investigation feels increasingly out of balance to me.

I value a meticulous investigation and I don't want Mueller's team doing sloppy work that yields no results. But I also value urgency — and the delivery of effective results that put a stop to this pressing threat to the republic.

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