This is how we know Mueller isn't done yet — and talk of an 'endgame' is premature

Here is a quick list of issues, and people, still hanging out there.

Photo Credit: White House

Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for Michael Flynn, and memos expected later in the week detailing portions of the investigation related to Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, have a number of pundits opining that the Russia investigation is all but over. Again. Across DC, and TV, the desire to slap a bow on the special counsel appointment and flip off the lights seems to be near fever pitch. But there are reasons to believe that the investigation led by Robert Mueller may be a long way from over—it might not even have reached cruising altitude. Here is a quick list of issues, and people, still hanging out there:

1) Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi 
These two are a given. From Stone’s “defense” that he lies so much that everyone should just expect that any statement he makes is a lie, to Corsi’s apparently unwritten joint defense agreement with Donald Trump, these two are apparently flapping in the breeze of their own boasts, utterly dependent on putting on a show to Trump to earn their “not weak guys like Cohen” pardon. The funniest thing about this pair is that both could likely have had nice soft plea deals, except that—like Paul Manafort—they’ve become so conditioned by a lifetime of being cons and getting away with anything, that they determined to escape by way of ever more brazen and bizarre action. That’s not going to work.

2) Aaron Nevins
The Florida Republican consultant rarely makes the headlines, and has slipped through much of the last year without notice, but he’s one of the slam-dunked-est figures of the whole election. Even though he suspected all along he was working with Russian operatives, Nevins helped the Russians sort through stolen documents from the DNC, pick out the most valuable material, and explain to them how to use it. He then went on to share the information with Republican candidates—and to brag that he didn’t care if it was the Russians, because he would do anything to hurt Hillary Clinton.

3) Alexander Nix
Add to Nix’s name “everyone who was anyone at Cambridge Analytica.” Nix didn’t just help turn stolen info into actionable data for the campaign, he actively sought cooperation with Russia in spreading propaganda. He made the weaponization of social media his business model.

“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

4) Mark Zuckerberg

Possibly not Zuckerberg directly, and certainly not alone, but both Facebook and Twitter—at a minimum—were engaged in not just turning a blind eye to the Russian military in an extensive effort to conduct electronic warfare against the United States, they bent over backward to help. Both companies were remarkably slow about weeding out the propaganda teams whose money they were pocketing, and remarkably awful in the way they promoted pop-up false news sites and messages produced by troll farms. As Steve Bannon has made clear, Cambridge Analytica was created for the express purpose of destroying American democracy. For Zuckerberg and company, crushing freedom was just another day at the money mine.

5) Brad Parscale
Trump’s digital campaign director was so important that Trump made him the chair of his entire 2020 effort. Parscale coordinated between Cambridge Analytica and social media sites. He worked to obtain data from Russian hackers. And perhaps most noxiously, he helped author a three fold “voter suppression plan”  in which the Trump campaign spread false stories intended to drive a wedge between Clinton and black voters, convince Bernie Sanders supports that Clinton was “a neo-liberal war hawk who had stolen the primaries,” and convince younger women that Clinton was an enemy of the MeToo movement. Parscale had his finger in every digital pie from Nevin’s documents, to Nix’s strategy, to Zuckerberg’s keen marketing tools. 

At this point, the whole digital end of the Trump campaign seems to be forgotten but for attempts to piece together the links with WikiLeaks. And while that’s a vital issue, especially considering that recent revelations suggest Paul Manafort may have been involved in getting stolen information to Julian Assange since before there was any stolen information, it’s far from the only part of the massive on-line effort. Mueller’s team has indicted over two dozen Russian individuals and companies connected with activities in the campaign. It seems unlikely that no one on the US side, from the companies that knowingly assisted their efforts to the campaign that gleefully profited, will end up without additional paperwork.

6) Allen Weisselberg
The chief financial officer of the Trump Organization isn’t up on charges, and isn’t likely to be: He has a limited immunity agreement with federal prosecutors. Weisselberg came in to testify at the time that Cohen was first indicted, and one of the things he’s sure to have spoken about is Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal—payments that Cohen cleared with Trump’s top accountant. But the big question here is: What’s the limit of Weisselberg’s testimony?

In fact, that question is likely key to whether the Mueller investigation is on its way to wrapping up, or simply stepping up to the next gear. Mueller already demonstrated in the case of Paul Manafort that he was more than willing to look at financial crimes that took place years ago, especially when those crimes helped explain connections and motivations for activities during the campaign. 

And that leads to the big question—Is Robert Mueller looking into Trump’s long history of money-laundering and collaboration with Russian oligarchsFinancial Times did a detailed and thorough expose of Trump before the election that contains more than enough information to connect the dots between Trump, Felix Sater, the Russian-funded Trump SoHo, Sergei Millian and the false-front of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce, and how Trump’s efforts allowed Russia to build their own professional money laundering business right in Trump Tower. 

That Mueller may be looking at Trump’s business dealings is hinted at by a court filing made at the time of Paul Manafort’s indictment. When Manafort’s lawyers claimed that the special counsel had stepped outside the bounds of his appointment, Mueller responded by producing this document:

That’s only part of a document that includes a whole additional page of blacked-out material. Clearly the authority under those black areas covered allegations other than those against Paul Manafort. Did this authority extend to looking into Trump’s decades of using his 500 + shell companies to hide Russian money laundering? We simply don’t know.

7) And the rest
Not the Professor and Mary Ann, but pretty much everyone else. Cambridge Analytica proud pappa and neo-fascist Steve Bannon. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III with his hour-plus private meeting with the Russian ambassador in his Senate office. Jared Kushner with his constant hunt for some foreign government to bail him out of his bad business decisions. And, of course, all the little Trumps who were up to their necks in both Trump Tower Moscow and Trump’s money laundering. Donald Jr. and Ivanka both seem poised at the brink of the pit—though Mueller is likely aware that issuing an indictment to either would result in Trump laying the final brick in a wall between the White House and anything that resembled justice. After all, Trump has already tweeted an image that showed Robert Mueller in jail. 

And that’s not even including the mystery witness. Next week Mueller will go to court for a fifth time in an effort to compel the testimony of an undisclosed witness before the grand jury. There appear to be absolutely no clues as to who this might be (John Kelly? Hope Hicks? Sessions?) but the effort being made suggests that the information revealed could be vital—and possibly unrelated to the Manafort, Cohen, Flynn information that will appear this week.

There’s always the possibility that Mueller may have simply decided to stay away from Trump’s business dealings. What’s under all that black ink on the document he provided during the Manafort indictment may even instruct him to steer clear of looking into the Trump Organization. But the idea that Nix, Parscale, and everyone related to the digital end of what was, after all, a primarily digital scheme, would skate away clean seems … unlikely.


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Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."