given a week that saw immense sturm und drang over Devin Nunes' memo -- a document that seems purposefully designed to obfuscate and muddy the waters around Mueller's investigation -- it seems worth asking the opposite question: What are the known knowns of the Mueller investigation, and where might it be heading? The first thing we know is that we know it is large. We speak about the "Mueller probe" as a single entity, but it's important to understand that there are no fewer than five (known) separate investigations under the broad umbrella of the special counsel's office -- some threads of these investigations may overlap or intersect, some may be completely free-standing, and some potential targets may be part of multiple threads. But it's important to understand the different "buckets" of Mueller's probe.
As special counsel, Mueller has broad authority to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump," as well as "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation," a catch-all phrase that allows him to pursue other criminality he may stumble across in the course of the investigation. As the acting attorney general overseeing Mueller, Rod Rosenstein has the ability to grant Mueller the ability to expand his investigation as necessary and has been briefed regularly on how the work is unfolding. Yet even without being privy to those conversations, we have a good sense of the purview of his investigation.
Right now, we know it involves at least five separate investigative angles:
1. Preexisting Business Deals and Money Laundering-
2. Russian Information Operations. When we speak in shorthand about the "hacking of the election,
3. Active Cyber Intrusions-
4. Russian Campaign Contacts. This corner of the investigation remains perhaps the most mysterious aspect of Mueller's probe, as questions continue to swirl about the links and contacts among Russian nationals and officials and Trump campaign staff, including Carter Page, the subject of the FISA warrant that was the focus of the Nunes memo. Numerous campaign (and now administration) officials have lied about or failed to disclose contacts with both Russian nationals and Russian government officials, from meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to government banker Sergey Gorkov to the infamous Trump Tower meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.
At least two members of the campaign -- Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- have already pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about these contacts. But many other Trump aides face scrutiny, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. Some of these contacts may go back years; Page himself originally surfaced in January 2015 as "Male #1" in the indictment of three Russian SVR agents, working undercover in New York City, who had tried to recruit Page, an oil and gas adviser, as an intelligence asset, only to decide that he was too scatterbrained to be a useful source.
5. Obstruction of Justice. This is the big kahuna -- the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice by pressuring FBI director James Comey to "look past" the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn and whether his firing in May was in any way tied to Comey's refusal to stop the investigation. This thread, as far as we know from public reporting, remains the only part of the investigation that stretches directly into the Oval Office. It likely focuses not only on the President and the FBI director but also on a handful of related questions about the FBI investigation of Flynn and the White House's statements about the Trump Tower meeting. The president himself has said publicly that he fired Comey over "this Russia thing."
There's fresh reason to believe that this is an active criminal investigation; lost amid the news of the Nunes memo on Friday was a court ruling in a lawsuit where I and a handful of other reporters from outlets like CNN and Daily Caller are suing the Justice Department to release the "Comey memos": The ruling held that, based on the FBI's private testimony to the court -- including evidence from Michael Dreeben, one of the leaders of the special counsel's office -- releasing the memos would compromise the investigation. "Having heard this, the Court is now fully convinced that disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere' with that ongoing investigation," the judge wrote in our case.
Even the most generous interpretation of the Nunes memo -- which has been widely debunked by serious analysts -- raises questions only around the fourth thread of this investigation, insofar as it focuses on Carter Page, the one-time foreign policy adviser who appears to be ancillary to most of the rest of the Russia probes. All of the other avenues remain unsullied by the Nunes memo.
The second thing that we know is that large parts of the investigation remain out of sight. While we've seen four indictments or guilty pleas, they only involve threads one (money laundering) and four (Russian campaign contacts). We haven't seen any public moves or charges by Mueller's team regarding the information operations, the active cyber intrusions, or the obstruction of justice investigation.
We also know there's significant relevant evidence that's not yet public: Both Flynn and Papadopoulos traded cooperation and information as part of their respective plea deals, and none of the information that they provided has become public yet.
We also know that, despite the relative period of quiet since Flynn's guilty plea in December, Mueller is moving fast. While parts of the case will likely unfold and continue for years, particularly if some defendants head for trial, Mueller has in recent weeks been interviewing senior and central figures, like Comey and Sessions. He's also begun working to interview President Trump himself. Given that standard procedure would be to interview the central figure in an investigation last -- when all the evidence is gathered -- it seems likely that such interest means that Mueller is confident he knows what he needs to know for the obstruction case, at least.
All of these pieces of public evidence, the "known knowns," point to one conclusion: Bob Mueller has a busy few weeks ahead of him -- and the sturm und drang of the last week will likely only intensify as more of the investigation comes into public view.
If he has something on Trump it will come out before the election.
If he does not, he will drag it out until after the election in hopes that the Dems can use the ongoing investigation against the Repubs.
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