How Mueller's next indictment will tie together the Russians, WikiLeaks and the top of the Trump campaign
The indictment last Friday of long-time Republican bad boy and Trump political adviser Roger Stone marks the key turning point in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian connections to Donald Trump and his campaign. Mueller has finally revealed the strategy he has been working on all along. He has finished indicting the people he has talked to, and now he’s turning to those he hasn’t.
One of the big knocks Trump and his conservative supporters have made on Mueller’s Russia investigation has been that most of the campaign figures associated with Trump have been indicted on so-called “process crimes” such as lying to the FBI or congressional committees. Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, Alex van der Zwaan, and Rick Gates all were either indicted or pled guilty to lying, along with some other charges (Paul Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion, money laundering, and other financial crimes, struck a deal to plead guilty on other, similar crimes, and is now accused of breaking his plea agreement by lying to prosecutors).
But what everyone has forgotten is that Mueller’s indictments of the Russians were not for “process crimes” at all, but rather for various specific crimes surrounding the underlying crime of conspiring to defraud the United States of America.The indictments of 13 Russians from the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, and 12 Russian intelligence agents working for the Russian intelligence agency the GRU in Moscow are at the heart of Mueller’s overall strategy. He is has been investigating a conspiracy by the Russians and other “persons known and unknown to the grand jury,” to “interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” according to the specific wording of the indictments of the Russians.
Mueller is after this conspiracy: At one end were the Russians in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and at the other end were the “persons known and unknown” in the United States, all of whom are associated with the Trump campaign. Facilitating the two ends of the conspiracy was WikiLeaks, located in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
A reasonable analogy to the underlying crimes committed during the 2016 election would be this: Suppose someone over in Russia sends an agent to the United States to steal a pistol to be used in the crime of robbing a bank. They hide the pistol somewhere in the U.S. and go back to Russia. Then they contact an intermediary in London and tell them where the pistol is hidden. The intermediary contacts an American citizen in the United States, tells them where the pistol is, and the American takes the pistol and uses it to rob a bank in the United States.
Voila! You have the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation. The Russians, from Moscow, electronically steal the Democrat’s emails by copying them. They transmit the address where the emails are hidden to WikiLeaks in London. WikiLeaks takes the address of the stolen emails and transmits it to American media outlets. The Trump campaign uses the stolen emails to rob the United States of America of a free and fair election.
The next arrest and indictment you’re going to see from Mueller will be his biggest yet. One morning in the not too distant future, he’s going to sweep up everyone remaining who was associated with using the Democratic Party emails stolen by the Russians. Julian Assange will be indicted. So will Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner. Roger Stone will probably face a superseding indictment along with the others for defrauding the United States by conspiring with WikiLeaks and the Russian intelligence service, the GRU, to steal Democratic Party campaign documents and use them to interfere with the American presidential election of 2016, the same charge he made against the Russians. Mueller will probably follow Justice Department guidelines and the example set by Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski in Watergate. He will probably not indict the president, but he will name him as an unindicted co-conspirator, just as Richard Nixon was in Watergate.
It’s going to be a jaw-dropping arrest and indictment because it has to be. Mueller can no longer issue indictments piecemeal and get guilty pleas or convictions one by one. This time, he must lay out a case that Trump and his campaign officials committed crimes that are so egregious, it will be impossible for the congress to fail to protect him from being fired. If Mueller were to indict Kushner alone, or Trump Jr. alone, it would be too easy for Trump to feign outrage and fire him. That’s why Mueller’s next move will be his last, and it will be the big one, sweeping up everyone who is left at once.
Mueller’s indictment of the Republican bad boy and former Trump political adviser Roger Stone was less of an allegation that Stone committed crimes like lying to the congress and tampering with a witness, than it was the exercise of an elaborate search warrant for all of Stone’s houses and offices. Mueller wanted Stone’s electronic devices, because he needs to confirm what he already knows about Stone’s connections to WikiLeaks. He gained this knowledge from the National Security Agency and the CIA, both of which have been involved in the Russia investigation in the background.
Mueller has used information from the two major American intelligence agencies all along. It was NSA taps on the phones of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that let the FBI know former national security adviser Michael Flynn was lying when he denied talking to Kislyak about sanctions on Russia. It was probably NSA coverage of emails between former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and “Professor” Joseph Mifsud in London that let the FBI know George Papadopoulos was lying to them about his contacts with both Mifsud and the “female Russian national” he met with in London.
It was NSA coverage of emails and phone calls between Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom lawyer Alex Van der Zwaan and former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and former Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik that let the FBI know Van der Zwaan was lying to them when he said he had not been in secret communications with the two men.
It was NSA coverage of the 13 Russians associated with the Internet Research Agency that enabled Mueller to issue indictments for conspiring to defraud the United States, identity theft, and other crimes. And it was similar NSA coverage of 12 Russian GRU intelligence officers that enabled Mueller to indict them for hacking into and stealing Democratic Party emails in a conspiracy to interfere with the election of 2016.
Roger Stone was never interviewed by the FBI or Mueller’s grand jury, thus he had no opportunity the lie to them. This is why Mueller indicted him for lying to the only investigators he did talk to, the House Intelligence Committee.
After Stone was arrested, conservative commentators and Trump himself immediately seized on the fact that Stone wasn’t indicted for “collusion.” But Mueller knows who Roger Stone was texting, emailing or talking to overseas, because the NSA didn’t need wiretap warrants to pick up those communications. If Stone communicated directly with Julian Assange, the NSA knows it. Similarly, if Julian Assange communicated directly with the agents of the GRU who hacked into the Democrats’ email servers, the NSA knows that, too.
Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his contacts with his two cut-outs between himself and Assange, Randy Credico and Jerome Corsi. It’s likely that Mueller’s investigators never talked to Stone about his contacts with WikiLeaks for two reasons: first, prosecutors don’t often interview targets of their investigations, and second, they already knew whether Stone had talked to Assange because the NSA knew who Assange talked to.
Robert Mueller has been very careful in the way he has investigated connections between Trump, his campaign, and what we now know to be agents of the Russian government. He’s been even more careful with who he has indicted so far, and what he has indicted them for.
Clearly, Michael Flynn has told him more than we know about his contacts with Russian ambassador Kislyak, what he said to Kislyak, and on whose orders he said it. Rick Gates and Paul Manafort have told Mueller more than we know about why the Trump campaign insisted on changing the Republican campaign platform on the Ukraine to be more amenable to Russia. Everyone else who pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller has told him more than we know about their connections to various Russians or Russian agents. And Mueller’s team knows exactly who these mysterious figures such as “Professor” Mifsud and Konstantin Kilimnik are, because the CIA and the NSA have told him what their connections are to Russian intelligence.
All of the indictments Mueller has gotten so far have yielded a treasure chest of information the special counsel hasn’t yet revealed about what went on inside the Trump campaign. And now that Mueller has his hands on Roger Stone’s phones and computers, he will know about all the communications Stone had with others through encrypted programs like Whatsapp, which the Stone indictment mentions.
Mueller has been building slowly to an indictment of people at the very top of the Trump campaign who knew that the Russians had hacked the Democrats’ documents. These are the “persons known and unknown” who conspired with WikiLeaks about how to use the Democrats’ emails in the closing months of the campaign. One of those people was hinted at in the Stone indictment when Mueller said a “top campaign official” had been “directed” to contact Stone about “additional releases” of Democratic emails by WikiLeaks.
Who “directed” that Stone be contacted will be revealed in the next Mueller indictment, along with whoever Stone contacted overseas or within the Trump campaign by using encrypted programs that will now be available to Mueller’s investigators on Stone’s phones and computers.
We know that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and Michael Flynn all had contacts with Russians during the campaign. All three have been interviewed by the FBI, indicted, and either pled guilty or were found guilty by a jury. All three had positions at the very top of the Trump campaign. All three had regular contact with the candidate, Donald Trump.
There are only three top people associated with the Trump campaign who Mueller’s investigators haven’t talked to: Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump himself. We know that both Kushner and Trump Jr. had meetings with Russians during the campaign. We don’t know if Trump himself took part in meetings with people like Sergey Kislyak, and we don’t know if Trump was informed about other meetings with Russians like the one that took place at Trump Tower.
From the Stone indictment, we know that the Trump campaign was well-informed about the Democratic Party documents that WikiLeaks had received from the Russian GRU. We don’t know if Trump himself was informed in advance what WikiLeaks would be revealing, such as the release of John Podesta’s emails that came late in the campaign as an “October surprise.”
But we do know that Donald Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and that the Russian GRU did just that on the very night Trump made his request. And we know that Trump mentioned WikiLeaks more than 160 times during the campaign.
Mueller has been working on establishing the “collusion,” if you want to call it that, between the Russian GRU, WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign. His investigators are sitting on a gigantic mountain of evidence they have gotten from the NSA and the CIA about connections between the foreign elements of the conspiracy — between Assange and the GRU, for example, and between the GRU and people like Mifsud and Kilimnik.
WikiLeaks is the hub through which the GRU distributed the Democrats’ stolen documents to the media in an attempt to influence the presidential campaign of 2016 in favor of Donald Trump. The next indictment you will see from Mueller will be his last, and it will close the circle of collusion by connecting Trump and his campaign on one end, and the Russian GRU on the other end, through WikiLeaks.
In the closing months of the campaign, Trump would stand on the stage at rally after rally and open his arms wide and yell out, “I love WikiLeaks!” Mueller is going to show the world that loving WikiLeaks was the equivalent of loving the Russian intelligence agents who stole the Democrats’ emails. That was a federal crime, and when this is all over, Donald Trump is going to wish he had loved WikiLeaks less and the rule of law more, because his love of WikiLeaks is very likely what will take him down.