After he retires from public service and the practice of law, Robert Mueller should teach graduate courses on the fine art of patience. Over the 18 months I’ve spent on the Mueller investigation beat, the man has become my own personal meditation master. I hear the voices cry, “He’s got the goods!” right alongside competing cries of, “It’s all a sham!” and I smile in muted mirth because nobody knows nothing, on purpose. Mueller has no leaks. The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.
Remember Ken Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton and Whitewater/Monica Lewinsky/Vincent Foster/The Lindbergh Baby? That office had leaks in the same way the Bellagio in Vegas has fountains. Not so with this Russia investigation. The most well-connected pundits in Washington only know what Mueller wants them to know, and his favorite way of dispersing information is by way of public court filings.
Last week was a big one on that score. Thanks to a series of new confessions from Trump bagman Michael Cohen, which arrived in tandem with the appropriate court documents from Mueller, we learned that the president’s oft-repeated denials of having business dealings in Russia were yet another nest of lies.
In fact, Trump wanted to build another one of his gaudy towers, this time in Moscow, with Vladimir Putin ensconced in the penthouse free of charge. These dealings were ongoing during the presidential campaign even as Trump waved it all off as “fake news” fiction. It wasn’t. Trump is so visibly deep in the mire that even the code name given to him in the filings – “Individual 1” – was a humorous aside, a lawyer’s joke no one in the White House was laughing about.
The best part? No one saw any of it coming until the paperwork dropped and Cohen walked into court. That’s a tight ship.
With the caveat that all we have to go on is the court calendar, this week is shaping up to be quite interesting on the Mueller front. It started with a whisper on Tuesday when the special counsel filed his sentencing memo for Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Mueller had until 11:59 pm to file and waited until nearly the last moment to do so.
One year ago nearly to the day, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. That plea came with a cooperation agreement, and after a year of silence, the sentencing memo filed yesterday gave the world a slice of insight into what cooperation with Mueller looks like.
First and foremost, Mueller recommends no prison time for Flynn, a certain sign that Flynn has done everything asked of him. “His early cooperation was particularly valuable,” reads the memo, “because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the SCO [special counsel’s office].”
Why no prison time? Over the course of 19 interviews with Mueller and his team, Flynn revealed “firsthand” information on multiple contacts between the Trump presidential transition team and Russian government officials. “Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth below,” continues the memo, “a sentence at the low end of the guideline range — including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration — is appropriate and warranted.”
Indeed, the memo reveals that Flynn is helping Mueller on not one but three separate investigations. The nature of the other two investigations are buried beneath lines of deep black ink, because Flynn’s sentencing memo is heavily redacted. This is a new tactic for Mueller; previous court filings have not been filled with so many deliberate concealments.
Clearly, the special counsel is not yet ready to tip his full hand yet. Critics of the investigation will claim the redactions prove Mueller is gambling on a busted straight. Advocates will say he’s being canny. Trump and his people will sweat bullets over what is hidden under all that ink.
For the rest of us? The Tao that can be named is not the Tao. Mueller once more teaches patience. The sentencing memos for Cohen and Paul Manafort, Trump’s other convicted bagman, come due on Friday. We wait, and we watch, again.
Some other items of note: As the Cohen confession party was unfolding last Thursday, a pair of law enforcement raids took place an ocean apart. Deutsche Bank, the massive global criminal operation pretending to be a financial institution, was raided in Frankfurt by police and tax investigators.
The raid was part of a money-laundering probe stemming from the 2016 release of the so-called “Panama Papers,” which detail the trillions of dollars that have been hidden in offshore tax havens by wealthy individuals and corporations from all over the world.
On the same day, the FBI conducted a raid on the offices of Chicago Alderman Edward Burke. Law enforcement agents were mum on the reasons for the raid. They taped brown paper over the office windows while the raid took place, and were seen leaving with boxes of documents and some computer equipment.
What does one have to do with the other, and what does either have to do with anything?
Deutsche Bank is known for being the only financial institution outside of Moscow willing to loan Donald Trump money after his multiple bankruptcies. It holds the paper on Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, the Trump National Doral in Miami, and the Trump building in Washington, DC, known as the “Old Post Office,” all to the tune of about $300 million.
Through his Klafter & Burke law firm, Burke spent years representing Trump in his challenges to the property tax assessments of Trump Tower. Their relationship ended just this year, a breakup due to what has been explained only as “irreconcilable differences.”
It may very well mean nothing, a collision of coincidences, but I would be at least mildly concerned were I Mr. Trump. His bank and his long-time accountant had their offices raided by law enforcement on the same day his fixer spilled even more of the Russian beans, and all of it came the week before it began raining sentencing memos in court.
Also: “The attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia issued subpoenas for financial records and other documents from as many as 13 of President Trump’s private entities Tuesday,” reports The Washington Post, “as part of an ongoing lawsuit alleging that his business violates the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments.”
Furthermore: “President Donald Trump’s longtime political ally Roger Stone invoked the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination as he declined to share documents and testimony with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” reports Politico.
The subpoenas are flying, the plea agreements are going public, the remaining investigative targets are taking the fifth. It is all happening when it happens, and not one second before. “The wheels of justice turn slowly,” counseled Euripides, “but grind exceedingly fine.” Mueller knows that one, too.