The comedian and activist Randy Credico met last week with investigators working with special counsel Robert Mueller. He came away impressed.
“I think these people know everything already,” said Credico, who was there to answer questions about his old friend Roger Stone, a sometime adviser to Donald Trump. “They have all the information.”
“All the information” grew significantly on Friday, as Mueller announced that the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors requiring him to testify indefinitely about any matter of interest to investigators, potentially including the inner workings of the campaign, its contacts with Russia, Trump family business dealings in Russia or his own contacts with Russia.
One former assistant US attorney called the plea deal an “existential threat to the presidency”.
The fundamental focus and progress of the Mueller investigation is unknown, owing to the prosecutorial team’s extreme informational continence. But by all reports, and judging by indictments handed down so far, Mueller’s flashlights have penetrated deeply into the side caverns and underground tunnels of the Trump campaign and presidency.
His central mission is to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged cooperation by the Trump presidential campaign. So what is the status of the Mueller investigation, with the midterm elections less than two months away?
What does Manafort’s flip mean?
Manafort, who was convicted last month on eight fraud charges, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice, and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Manafort could help Mueller in many ways. Drawing on his long relationships and network of contacts in the former Soviet bloc, he might help prosecutors understand how the Russian interference campaign played out. Investigators are bound to be interested in Manafort’s offer of private briefings to his former business partner Oleg Deripaska, the Russian industrialist.
Potentially worse for Trump and his family, Manafort is well positioned to testify about any wrongdoing inside the campaign. He attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives arranged by Donald Trump Jr. He was present at the Republican convention when the party softened its anti-Russia stance in Ukraine. Manafort understands the nature of the campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives, and he was chairman when WikiLeaks began publishing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by hackers linked by US intelligence to Russia. He might be able to describe Trump’s attempted business deals in Russia.
Mueller just got a star witness.
Will Roger Stone be indicted?
Mueller is investigating Stone, who was in contact during the campaign with WikiLeaks, which in July 2016 published some emails stolen from the DNC and which later was in contact with Trump Jr. A second Stone associate, Jerome Corsi, was interviewed by Mueller on the same day as Credico. Stone has said he expects to be indicted but has denied all wrongdoing.
Following the money
Federal prosecutors are investigating suspect money flows during and after the election, although it is unclear how much of that investigation is in Mueller’s purview versus how much is being run, for example, out of the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York. Prosecutors are investigating large overseas money flows following the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials and Russian operatives, and also following the November 2016 election, BuzzFeed reported on Wednesday.
Money flows originally tipped prosecutors off to the crimes of the former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty last month to fraud charges and campaign finance violations in a prosecution referred by Mueller. Other Trump Organization figures are now reportedly under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations, and the chief financial officer of the organization, Allen Weisselberg, is cooperating with prosecutors.
The earliest cases brought by the special counsel’s office continue to play out. Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos was sentenced last week to two weeks in prison for lying to FBI investigators about contacts with Kremlin-linked figures. Papadopoulos was told in April 2016 the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and “thousands of emails”, but later told reporters he did not believe he had passed that information up the campaign food chain. Meanwhile, Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who told Papadopoulos that, is mysteriously missing.
Trump and obstruction of justice
Mueller is also believed to be investigating Trump, who denies all wrongdoing, for alleged obstruction of justice. Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, his attacks on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the justice department, and his alleged dangling of pardons to defendants such as Manafort all might qualify as obstruction.
After Manafort’s conviction on felony fraud charges in Virginia last month, Trump tweeted: “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Will Mueller interview Trump?
The president’s legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, appears to be in negotiations with Mueller. According to a new book by Bob Woodward, the former Trump lawyer John Dowd counselled Trump not to grant an interview to Mueller because Dowd believed Trump could not keep himself from lying.
The status of the negotiations is opaque, with only the mutterings of Giuliani to go on. He has contradicted himself, saying last week that Trump would refuse to answer any questions about obstruction of justice, and then saying “we’re not closing it off 100%”.
Mueller is thought to be working on a report to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. He has secured guilty pleas or convictions from four ex-campaign aides.
About 50% of voters support Mueller’s handling of the investigation, versus 30% who approve of Trump’s handling of it, according to a recent CNN poll. Public faith in Mueller has been growing since June, when he was measured at 41% approval.