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How the Media Missed the Most Important Part of the Mueller Report

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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.”

Indeed.

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‘Sociopath Party’: Morning Joe Panel Horrified by Chance of Trump-Greene ‘Crackpot’ Ticket

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is reportedly angling to become Donald Trump’s running mate — or possibly even president herself — and panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” are worried.

The second-term Georgia Republican has tried to rebrand herself as a liaison between the Republican Party’s establishment and its right-wing fringes, but the show’s co-host Mika Brzezinski said Greene couldn’t escape her controversial reputation so quickly.

“Marjorie Taylor Greene, I will just put my marker down right here and say this is a potential reality unless people get their heads on straight,” Brzezinski said.

Guest George Conway agreed the firebrand lawmaker would only make Trump worse as his running mate.

“I mean, in a way she’s perfect — Trump-Greene ’24, a crack in every pot,” Conway said. “This will be the sociopath party ticket. She absolutely would play to his worst instincts and play to the worst elements of the Republican base. I think it would turn off the center of the electorate, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to be serious that she would get this because Trump cannot take someone as a vice president who’s going to potentially upstage him. That’s why Mike Pence was so perfect for him.”

“Pence was, you know, so much of a cipher,” Conway added. “He drank water when President Trump drank water at a meeting. He would basically nod and agree with what Trump said up until that day on Jan. 6, which could have been prevented if we had a vice president with a spine who had conceded the election as it should have been conceded long before then. So I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility, but the fact that we’re even talking about it is horrific.”

 
Image: L.E.MORMILE / Shutterstock

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Watch: Santos Shuts Door on Reporters, Says ‘No Comment’ on $500,000 ‘Personal’ Loan After Amending FEC Report

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U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is continuing his campaign of obfuscation, just one day after amending his campaign finance report telling the Federal Elections Commission on Tuesday the half-million dollars he claimed to have personally loaned his campaign was not actually from his personal funds.

Calling it a “tense exchange,” CNN’s Manu Raja reports Santos “would not explain to us why he amended his public filings to show that $500K from his contributions did not come from his personal funds.”

“Sir — let’s make it very clear: I don’t amend anything, I don’t touch any of my FEC stuff, right?” Santos said, berating the press.

Adding again that the embattled freshman New York Republican “refused to explain source of money,” Raju adds Santos told him, “don’t be disingenuous and report that I did because you know that every campaign hires fiduciaries.”

READ MORE: Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ‘Whole Vision’ Is to Be Trump’s Vice President: Report

“’So, I’m not aware of that answer and we’ll have an answer for the press regarding the amendments in yesterday’s’ filing,” Santos said,

CBS News’ Cristina Corujo posted video of Congressman Santos telling reporters, “no comment,” and “I have no clue on what you are talking about ma’am,” when asked about the $500,000 loan and amended FEC report.

On Tuesday, The Daily Beast reported that “Santos’ political operation filed a flurry of amended campaign finance reports, telling the feds, among other things, that a $500,000 loan he gave to his campaign didn’t, in fact, come from his personal funds as he’d previously claimed.”

READ MORE: Watch: Pope Francis Says Homosexuality Is ‘A Sin’ But Not ‘A Crime’

Some say that might be a crime.

Pointing to a New York Post article on Santos’ $500,000 FEC correction, former CNBC and Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky says, “This is de facto admission by George Santos of a crime. Candidates for federal office may loan or gift campaigns unlimited personal money. Everything else is limited to a few thousand dollars per donor and all of it must be disclosed on FEC paperwork.”

Watch the video of Santos above or at this link.

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Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ‘Whole Vision’ Is to Be Trump’s Vice President: Report

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has one singular goal: becoming Donald Trump’s vice president. The far-right Georgia Republican has gone from chasing a young mass shooting survivor and anti-gun violence activist around the streets of Washington, D.C., to a Congresswoman stripped of her committees after revelations she said the Democratic Speaker of the House was “guilty of treason,” which she noted is “a crime punishable by death,” to one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.

NBC News reports Greene “is angling to be Donald Trump’s running mate in 2024,” citing two sources, including far right extremist and former top Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

“This is no shrinking violet, she’s ambitious — she’s not shy about that, nor should she be,” Bannon said of Greene. “She sees herself on the short list for Trump’s VP. Paraphrasing Cokie Roberts, when MTG looks in the mirror she sees a potential president smiling back.”

READ MORE: ‘I Can Speak From Personal Experience’: Just Two Weeks Ago Pence Called for Special Counsel for Biden Classified Docs

Another source “who has advised Greene said her ‘whole vision is to be vice president.’ The source, who has ties to Trump but spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said he also believes Greene would be on Trump’s short list.”

Bannon, who was convicted on two criminal contempt of Congress charges, which he is appealing, says Greene is “both strategic and disciplined — she made a power move, knowing it would run up hard against her most ardent crew,” referring to far right House Republicans.

“She was prepared to take the intense heat/hatred short-term for the long-term goal of being a player.”

READ MORE: Watch: Top Trump Ally Lindsey Graham Defends Biden In Classified Docs Probe

Earlier this month The Daily Beast reported, “Donald Trump’s campaign has pretty much been asleep since he announced. But that isn’t stopping him or his confidants from gaming out a vice-presidential pick,” noting all the names being floated are women.

Among them, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat turned independent, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“Greene’s positioning within Trump’s inner circle has only prospered in the former president’s post-presidential tenure bunkering down at Mar-a-Lago,” The Daily Beast observed. “She has become a fixture at his MAGA rallies, with the congresswoman often lingering in the press pen to give exclusive interviews to Right Side Broadcasting, a YouTube channel that streams the rallies in their entirety to an audience of 1.57 million subscribers.”

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