Trump’s biggest Mueller problem isn’t Russia. At least not yet.

Posted at 12:40 PM, Dec 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-10 18:42:16-05

Special counsel Robert Mueller has begun quietly laying his cards down, one at a time, in court filings for three key former associates of President Donald Trump — his former campaign chairman, his former fixer and lawyer and his former top national security adviser. The steady dripping of developments into open court can distract from the totality of what we know and are learning on three distinct and all very damning threads:

  • The President’s involvement in a scheme to mislead voters about his involvement with women alleging affairs.
  • His aides’ interactions with Russians interested in influencing the outcome of the election.
  • Efforts to use his status as a top candidate to make money in Russia.
  • The possible coverup of the three preceding things.

Here’s what to know about the last week:

1. More serious talk of impeachment, indictment — The end result of Mueller’s activity is that key Democrats are talking more seriously about the prospect of him being prosecuted after he leaves office. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the incoming House Judiciary Committee chairman said on CNN that what’s alleged court documents filed by Mueller with regard to Michael Cohen and “Individual-1” — aka Trump — are likely “impeachable offenses.” Separately, Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, said they’re the kinds of things Trump could be indicted for once he’s out of office and “face the real prospect of jail time.” Neither said Democrats would be actively pursuing impeachment or pushing for criminal charges. But it is a definite change that they are using those terms with regard to the President.

2. It is not Russia that has them talking impeachable offenses or criminal charges — While Mueller’s special counsel was appointed to investigate possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, it is actually the payoffs to hush up Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, women who alleged affairs with Trump, that had Nadler and Schiff talking. There’s plenty of reason to think Mueller may have the goods with regard to Russia too, but he hasn’t played those cards and the most damning thing for Trump so for is the detail about Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and attorney, saying he orchestrated the payments on behalf of and at the direction of Trump.

3. There is plenty of Russia, too — Just because it is payoffs that are the most directly dangerous public information for Trump doesn’t mean Mueller isn’t focused on Russia. That clearly remains his main focus. CNN has documented at least 16 interactions between Trump aides and associates and Russians interested in collusion. These include people who have copped to lying to investigators, like Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but also people like Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. In fact, 29 of the 36 people and entities charged so far by Mueller are Russians.

4. It’s about his business in addition to possible collusion — Cohen was also working to trade on Trump’s import as a political figure to build a skyscraper in Moscow with Trump’s name on it.

5. Mueller’s investigation stretches deep into Trump’s presidency — Part of what Cohen has cooperated with Mueller about is activity of some kind that came in 2017 and 2018. Further, Manafort has been accused by Mueller of lying to prosecutors about his interactions with the White House into 2018. That means in addition to everything else, Mueller’s concentrating on a period of time well into Trump’s presidency — long after Manafort was out of Trump’s orbit, long after the election and after Flynn and James Comey were fired.

6. There’s more to come — We still don’t know everything Mueller has on Trump or his current or former staffers since large portions of the filings are redacted.