Mueller time: Here are this week's 5 biggest bombshells in the special counsel's Russia investigation
It’s no coincidence that in 2018, major media outlets like MSNBC and CNN have made a point of inviting Jill Wine-Banks, John Dean, Dan Rather and Carl Bernstein to appear as guests and comment on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia-related investigation. All of them lived through Watergate in the 1970s: Wine-Banks was an assistant prosecutor in Watergate, while Dean was President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel and Rather and Bernstein reported on Watergate extensively as journalists—and when any of them assert that Mueller’s probe and Russiagate give them a feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu, it’s not something to be taken lightly. After the 2018 midterms, President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replace him with loyalist Matthew Whitaker—who has been highly critical of Mueller’s investigation—seemed highly Nixon-ish to those who are old enough to remember Watergate. Nonetheless, the investigation continues. And this has been a highly eventful week for Mueller’s probe.
Here are some of this week’s most important bombshells in Robert Mueller’s Russia-related investigation
1. Mueller Terminated His Plea Deal With Paul Manafort
Monday, November 26, brought a major bombshell in Mueller’s investigation when his office announced that Paul Manafort’s plea deal had ended because he had repeatedly lied to federal investigators. Mueller’s probe has yielded a mountain of evidence against Manafort, who was convicted of eight criminal charges (including bank and tax fraud) on August 22 and was facing a second trial for charges ranging from money laundering to obstruction of justice. But rather than go to trial a second time, Manafort agreed to a plea deal in September: he would fully cooperate with Mueller’s investigation in exchange for a more lenient sentence. And lying to investigators, Mueller’s office asserted, was an egregious violation of that agreement.
2. New York Times: Manafort Was Funneling Mueller-Related Information to President Trump’s Attorneys
On Tuesday, November 27—only one day after news broke that Manafort’s plea deal with Mueller had ended—the New York Times reported that Manafort had been using his attorney, Kevin Downing, to funnel information on Mueller’s probe to Trump’s lawyers. Maggie Haberman, Michael S. Schmidt and Sharon LaFraniere of the Times reported, “While Mr. Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, who accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant.”
3. The Guardian Alleges That Manafort Held Secret Talks with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange
It was also on November 27 that the Guardian reported that Manafort secretly met with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange in 2013, 2015 and 2016—specifically, in March 2016, the month he signed on as Trump’s campaign manager. Months after that, the Guardian noted, WikiLeaks published the hacked e-mails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The hacker who stole Democratic e-mails in 2016 and passed them along to WikiLeaks went by Guccifer 2.0, and Mueller’s team believes Guccifer 2.0 to be a Russian agent.
According to the Guardian, Manafort and Assange met at the Ecuadoran embassy in London in March 2016. Manafort, however, has adamantly denied ever meeting with Assange. And Trump ally Roger Stone has maintained that there is no proof that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian agent.
4. Jerome Corsi Rejects Mueller’s Plea Offer
On November 27, alt-right author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi released a copy of a plea agreement he said Mueller offered him. Mueller’s office alleges that Corsi lied to investigators when he told them that in 2016, he never acted as an intermediary between WikiLeaks and Roger Stone. On August 2, 2016, Mueller’s team alleges, Corsi told Stone in an e-mail that Assange “plans 2 more dumps” that would be “very damaging” for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Corsi, however, has maintained that he had no advance knowledge that Assange and WikiLeaks would be publishing hacked Democratic e-mails. And Corsi has rejected Mueller’s offer of probation rather than jail time if he will plead guilty to lying to investigators.
5. Mueller Is Investigating Late-Night Phone Conversations between Trump and Roger Stone During 2016 Presidential Race
On November 29, the Washington Post reported that Mueller was taking a close look at a series of nighttime phone conversations between Stone and Trump during the 2016 presidential race. One of those phone calls took place on August 3, 2016, which was the day after the alleged August 2 e-mail in which Corsi told Stone that WikiLeaks would be publishing hacked Democratic e-mails. Mueller is trying to determine whether or not Stone acted as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks at a time when WikiLeaks was publishing or getting ready to publish hacked Democratic e-mails, but Stone has maintained that he never discussed WikiLeaks with Trump in 2016.