When Special Counsel Robert Mueller pursued his investigation, he asked two key questions: Did President Donald Trump or his campaign conspire or coordinate with the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election? And did Trump, as president, obstruct the investigation?
And with all the coverage of the Mueller report, most of the media seems to be missing the central point at which the two questions overlap: Paul Manafort.
As I explained after Mueller’s report first came out, a key mystery remains about Manafort. Why was he, as Trump’s campaign chair, sending polling data to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, among others, through Konstantin Kilimnik? Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, incidentally, thought Kilimnik was a “spy,” Mueller told us — and the FBI agrees.
One suggestion in the report is just that Manafort thought it would show off his work to someone he had a business relationship with. But this is hardly persuasive, and Mueller doesn’t seem to fully buy it.
And most importantly, the reason we don’t know Manafort’s reason for sending the polling data — a potentially conspiratorial act — is because he lied to Mueller, even after he agreed to cooperate with the investigation. And this ties to the obstruction case. Mueller lays out a strong case that Trump’s dangling of a pardon to Manafort, and his encouragement that Manafort not “flip,” constituted criminal obstruction of justice. Well, Manafort never truly flipped; he just kept misleading investigators. If Manafort really was conspiring with the Russians — with or without Trump’s knowledge — the president may have successfully covered it up.
Of course, this is speculation. But that’s one reason why obstructing justice on its own is and should be a crime. It corrupts the justice system and leaves doubt that the best possible answers were obtained. Manafort lied to investigators and Trump encouraged him to do so, or at least to keep his mouth shut; this suggests they both had something to hide.
This gaping hole in the case should be a major takeaway from the report. But it has attracted relatively little attention, given the fact that it emphasizes why obstruction charges are so important and undermines claims that the report is a decisive demonstration of “no collusion.”
Mainstream coverage, in fact, has misled people. For example, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote that the Mueller report showed, “No collusion, officially.”
But Mueller makes clear in the report that just because he didn’t find something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And in the case of the polling data, Mueller goes a step further and says he doesn’t know why Manafort shared this information — leading wide open the possibility that the motive was criminal in nature.
In another piece, Blake noted that “it’s not clear whether there was any quid pro quo agreement” regarding the Manafort polling data. But he doesn’t mention that one likely reason this isn’t clear is that Trump successfully obstructed justice.
The New York Times, in its list of the “7 key things” it thinks its readers “need to know” about the Mueller report, it didn’t even mention Manafort once.
And the first “thing” it thinks you should know is this: “Trump did try to sabotage the investigation. His staff defied him.”
While this is true, it gives the false impression that all of Trump’s efforts to stop the investigation failed because of his staff. As I have argued, though, it’s quite possible that not only was Trump successful in illegally keeping Manafort quiet but that this act covered up another game-changing crime.
There have been some exceptions to this trend of missing the point. Ben Wittes, writing for Lawfare, noted the significance of Trump’s tampering with Manafort.
“Trump got what he wanted in this case,” wrote Wittes. “Manafort did not end up cooperating to Mueller’s satisfaction. Indeed, Mueller concluded that he breached his plea deal by failing to cooperate and by lying to investigators. So the reality here may well be that the president’s obstructive conduct did, in fact, obstruct the investigation. The president hinted that Manafort should not ‘flip’ and that he would take care of him. And Manafort acted in a fashion consistent with his relying on those assurances.”
However, in the reverse of Blake’s omission, Wittes fails to connect this to the fact that Manafort’s potentially criminal motive for sending the polling data remains unknown.
Charlie Sykes, writing for the Bulwark and citing Wittes, has been the only writer I’ve seen yet make the full connection:
At this point, we don’t know how significant Manafort’s silence was to the outcome of the investigation. We do know that before, during, and after his tenure as Trump campaign chair, he maintained deep and tangled relationships with figures associated with the Kremlin. At one point he passed private campaign polling data to an associate with links to Russian intelligence. Could he have exposed greater cooperation between TrumpWorld and the Russians? We don’t know, although Mueller left behind several tantalizing suggestions about the information that they had been blocked from seeing.
He concluded, aptly: “But, for the time being, it appears that Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct key parts of the investigation may actually have succeeded.”
Wittes acknowledged Sykes’ point, writing: “I don’t know why this aspect of the report is not getting more attention.”
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Fauci: Trump Hasn’t Been to a Coronavirus Task Force Meeting in ‘Months’ and Hasn’t Talked to Me ‘in a While’
NIH Director Says White House Now Has ‘Different Priorities’ Than Coronavirus
Dr. Anthony Fauci says President Donald Trump has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in “several months.” Fauci, the most respected and most recognized health official in the federal government, also says meetings of the task force have been only “about one per week.”
Almost since its inception the task force had been meeting daily, but that dropped done to weekly several weeks ago, Fauci told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Vice President Mike Pence still leads the group.
Fauci also says, “I definitely don’t have” Trump’s “ear as much as Scott Atlas,” the Fox News radiologist who has all but made “herd immunity” the official policy of this White House.
“Direct involvement with the President,” Fauci said, “I have not done that in a while.”
It is a staggering revelation, as the U.S. heads into what experts are calling America’s “third wave” of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases were recorded. The U.S. now has had 8.7 million COVID-19 cases and is rapidly approaching 230,000 deaths.
Dr. Fauci says the last time President Trump has attended a coronavirus task force meeting was “several months ago.”
“Direct involvement with the president in the discussions? I have not done that in a while.” pic.twitter.com/UaingyDNGf
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 23, 2020
Meanwhile, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently called it “a bit of a chaotic time with the election,” noting that “there’s not a direct connection between the task force members and the president as there was a few months ago. But this seems to be a different time with different priorities.”
Judge Shoots Down Effort to Delay Hearing on Trump Rape Case — After Barr’s DOJ Was Caught Lying: Report
The United States Department of Justice received a public rebuke from a federal judge on Wednesday.
At issue was a hearing about the DOJ’s efforts to have taxpayer-funded lawyers defend President Donald Trump in a civil case over whether he defamed E. Jean Carroll after she accused him of sexual assault.
The DOJ attempted to delay the case after a government attorney was denied access to the courthouse due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The DOJ claimed that the new rules had started on Tuesday, even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo had announced the ban a week earlier.
The judge denied the motion and noted the hearing could be conducted by phone.
The judge added that “contrary to the government’s suggestion, it appears that Virginia was added to the list of Restricted States over a week ago.”
The order was posted to Twitter by Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld:
Upshot: The DOJ made an easily fact-checked error in a one-paragraph letter to a federal judge, who quickly noticed that and dressed the department down on the public record.
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) October 21, 2020
Biden Is Offering ‘Xanax for Americans’ Who Need ‘Calm’ After 4 Years of Trump: CNN Panel
A CNN panel on Wednesday said that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign has taken the nickname “Sleepy Joe”to heart and is now using it as part of its closing argument in the 2020 race.
Reacting to the Biden campaign ad that aired during the first game of the 2020 World Series, host John Berman noted that much of the 60-second spot seemed dedicated to projecting a return to normalcy after four chaotic years under President Donald Trump.
CNN correspondent Jeff Zelany shared Berman’s assessment.
“He’s hoping to present it as you know, Xanax for Democrats, milk of magnesia for Americans,” he said. “That ad in the World Series speaks volumes about where the Biden campaign is right now: They have resources and he is in command of this race. So he is trying to present an air of calm, really like he’s been trying to do from the very beginning.”
Reporter Abby Phillip also thought that the ad signaled where Biden’s closing argument is headed.
“What you do hear from a lot of voters is that they really are tired,” she said. “They really are kind of exhausted by this whole thing, they really do want things to be a little bit more calm.”
Watch the video below.
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