Lots of Mueller Action, but What About Collusion?
Remember collusion? The allegation that Donald Trump and his aides coordinated or conspired with Russia to fix the 2016 presidential election is the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Yet Monday saw two developments in the Trump investigation — one discussed widely in the press, the other not as much — and neither pointed toward collusion.
In the development that set off a press firestorm, FBI agents raided the office and hotel room of longtime Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, apparently looking for evidence concerning Cohen’s role in paying off the porn star Stormy Daniels, who once denied but now says she had a one-night stand with Trump more than a decade ago.
Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, said he was told the raid was “in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
The less-noted development was the release of a heavily redacted search warrant from the tax evasion, bank fraud and money laundering case against one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. As expected, the warrant dealt overwhelmingly with allegations of financial crimes against Manafort, but one sentence — out of 27 paragraphs and sub-paragraphs — concerned the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort and some Russians who said they had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The Manafort warrant — executed in a predawn, no-knock, guns-drawn FBI raid on Manafort’s apartment while Manafort and his wife were asleep inside — allowed the FBI to seize “communications, records, documents, and other files involving any of the attendees of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower,” as well as Aras and Emin Agalarov. (The last two are Russians who dealt with Trump in the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow.)
So two big stories, both generated by the Mueller investigation. And about the issue at the heart of the Mueller investigation — not much.
In the Cohen case, it’s believed that Mueller’s team came across evidence that implicated Cohen in wrongdoing but did not fall under Mueller’s original assignment to probe “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” or any other matters that might “arise directly” from that investigation. So Mueller handed off the Cohen information to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office oversaw the raids on Cohen’s office and hotel room.
There was much speculation about what the agents wanted — evidence about the Daniels payoff being the leading candidate — but at the same time, the fact that Mueller farmed out the case to federal prosecutors outside his office suggests that the Cohen matter, whatever it is, does not fall under Mueller’s core Trump-Russia assignment.
As far as the Manafort search warrant is concerned, the document shows clear Mueller interest in what Manafort knew about the Trump Tower meeting. But it appears whatever the FBI might have seized on that topic, if anything, did not lead to any charges against Manafort stemming from the meeting or collusion with Russia in general.
Manafort faces the most serious charges of any figure in the Trump-Russia affair. But none of those charges alleges collusion. Most have nothing to do with the Trump campaign, or concern alleged criminal activity that began before Manafort’s association with the campaign and continued during his brief time as campaign chief.
It is always possible that Mueller has more charges in mind for Manafort. But it is important to note that the no-knock raid on Manafort’s apartment took place on July 26, 2017. Manafort, along with business partner and fellow Trump campaign official Rick Gates, was indicted on Oct. 27, 2017. On Feb. 22, 2018, Mueller expanded the charges against Manafort in what’s called a superseding indictment. In none of those many charges is the accusation that Manafort was involved in a scheme with Russia to influence the 2016 campaign.
Again, it is important to note how little we know about what Mueller is doing. For all the public knows, a big collusion indictment could be coming tomorrow. But it is also important to note what we do know. And we do know who Mueller has charged, and with what, after an FBI investigation that began in July 2016 and a special counsel probe that began in May 2017. And so far, there have been no charges — not against Manafort or Gates, not against Michael Flynn, not against George Papadopoulos, or others — involving alleged collusion.
The Mueller investigation is marching on, and in the case of Cohen, giving birth to new farm-team investigations — but, so far at least, the story has not been about collusion.
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