It was a fine, sunny morning in Washington, D.C., yesterday. Over at the White House, the president was up early rage-tweeting about the acquittal in San Francisco of an illegal immigrant charged with killing Kate Steinle, charging that the verdict proved that “The Schumer/Pelosi Democrats are so weak on Crime that they will pay a big price in the 2018 and 2020 Elections.” A few minutes later, he was tweeting that the Senate tax bill, which had just been shown to add more than a trillion dollars to the deficit, was “getting better and better.”
A couple of hours later, downtown at the federal courthouse, federal marshals measured former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn for an ankle bracelet and put liens on his houses after he pled guilty to the federal crime of lying to an FBI agent. Flynn thus joined former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos on the Mueller cooperation train, making the jump onto the caboose just as it was leaving the station.
Trump appears to be coming totally unglued over the last three or four days. Cable news shows and newspaper editorial pages were overcome with distress over Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior. There were reports that in private conversations with aides, Trump had returned to questioning President Obama’s citizenship. He was said to deny the voice on the Access Hollywood pussy-grabbing tape was his — this after apologizing for his comments on the tape during the campaign. He was said to brag constantly about his many “successes,” which aren’t apparent to any vertical human with a functioning prefrontal cortex, and the fact that he won a majority of women’s votes in last year’s election, which he didn’t.
This produced dueling theories among analysts: One theory had him completely “divorced from reality.” “The truth is worse,” said the Washington Post, positing a theory that Trump was brilliantly creating an organized plan of so many lies nobody could possibly follow it, thus discrediting reality itself and the mainstream media along with it.
The “truth,” it turns out, was far simpler. Trump knew, because his lawyers told him, that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was going to plead guilty on Friday morning and cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He already knew that Flynn’s lawyers had sent a letter to Trump’s lawyers telling them they couldn’t share information and strategy anymore. He knew that his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his top aide Rick Gates were indicted on multiple felonies and they were facing upward of 20 years in federal prison. He knew that his former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI and has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation. He knew that Carter Page, one of his other campaign advisers, was questioned by the House Intelligence Committee for nearly seven hours and faces questioning by Mueller’s investigators. He knew that his former White House spokesman Sean Spicer was questioned by Mueller’s team of investigators. He knew that his former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was questioned by Mueller’s investigators. He knew that Keith Kellogg, the former executive secretary of the National Security Council, was questioned by Mueller’s investigators. He knew that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was recently questioned by Mueller’s investigators about Flynn and is facing interrogation by the House Intelligence Committee. (Kushner has been identified as the “senior Trump transition official who ordered Flynn to call Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last Dec. 29 and ask him not to overreact to Obama’s imposition of new sanctions against Russia on that day. If Kushner lied to Mueller’s investigators about his conversation with Flynn in December, he’ll be the next one getting fitted for an ankle bracelet at the federal courthouse.) He knew that his son Donald Jr. is scheduled to be interrogated by the House Intelligence Committee and is in the crosshairs of the Mueller investigation. He knew that his White House communications director, Hope Hicks, is scheduled to be questioned by Mueller’s investigators in coming weeks.
What does President Donald J. Trump know today? He knows, because his lawyers Ty Cobb and John Dowd have told him, that Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is proceeding the way all white-collar investigations proceed. Mueller is questioning one Trump campaign official after another, one Trump White House official after another. Then the investigators are comparing each official’s answers to what all of the other officials have said, and every time they catch one of these fools in a lie, they prepare an indictment for him or her.
Mueller is asking Sean Spicer what the president told him before he faced the press every day and lied over and over again, saying that there had been no contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. Mueller is asking former chief of staff Reince Priebus what the president told him about why he fired FBI Director James Comey. Mueller is asking former campaign aide Papadopoulos whom in the Trump campaign he informed about his contacts with Russians who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and told him they had “emails” belonging to Clinton and the Democratic Party. He’s asking former National Security Council executive secretary Keith Kellogg what was done by his compatriots to help House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes gather his “intercepts” in the White House that supposedly proved that Trump’s “wires were tapped.” Mueller is going to ask Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner and others what was said on Air Force One the night that Trump came up with the absurd excuse for the Trump Tower meeting with four Russians — that it was all about “adoption.” Mueller is going to ask Jared Kushner and White House counsel Don McGahn about the letter that Trump and Kushner cooked up one night at Trump’s New Jersey golf course justifying the firing of James Comey.
At this point, with the cooperation of George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn underway, only a few questions remain to be answered. Flynn can answer most of them. He was on the Trump campaign team early on, joining in February of 2016. He traveled with Trump to nearly every one of his campaign appearances. He was “in the room” with Trump nearly constantly for over a year. I think Flynn knows everything. ABC reporter Brian Ross reported on Friday morning that sources close to the investigation told him that Flynn was going to testify “against Trump, against members of his family, and others in the White House,” and that Trump had “ordered and directed him” to contact Russians he had spoken to.
We already have the answer to what the Russian contacts were about: They were about the emails the Russians had hacked from Democratic Party servers and fed to WikiLeaks. The Trump campaign knew the Russians had the Democrats’ emails as far back as April of 2016 when Papadopoulos learned about them in London and informed his superiors on the Trump campaign. Trump would go on to mention WikiLeaks and the Democrat’s emails more than 160 times in speeches during the final months of the campaign, according to Politifact.
So what charges could Mueller bring against the remaining Trump officials who aren’t already charged, and, most especially, Trump himself? An excellent place to look is 18 U.S. Code § 4 -- Misprision of felony: “Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
The “felony” that was committed was theft of the Democratic Party emails by the Russians. We already know that no one on the Trump campaign reported the theft of the emails to the authorities. Instead, Trump weaponized them against Hillary Clinton by using them more than 160 times to attack his opponent during the campaign. Judging by the Trump people Mueller has questioned, and the nature of the information he is seeking from them, it seems a sure thing that he is looking at charging Trump officials and Trump himself with obstruction of justice in the firing of Comey, and perhaps in the way Trump leaned on the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency (as well as Comey himself) to end the Russia investigation. On Friday, thanks to the New York Times, we learned that Trump spent the summer calling senators and congressmen on the intelligence committees, asking them to end the Russia investigation.
The atmosphere in the White House on Friday morning, Dec. 1, 2017, must have been eerily similar to the atmosphere in the White House on Friday, Oct. 19, 1973, the morning that White House counsel John Dean pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, punishable by five years in federal prison. John Dean would go on to lead the Watergate special prosecutor through a rabbit hole of Watergate corruption, implicating former Attorney General John Mitchell and former White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, all three of whom would eventually join Dean himself behind bars. The very next day, Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973, Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”
So what is Mueller’s end game? Assuming he survives in office and doesn’t suffer his own “Saturday Night Massacre,” I think he’s aiming to indict the president of the United States for multiple felonies. Trump’s lawyers know this. They’ve told him what Mueller’s intentions are. Maybe this explains Trump’s wild-eyed endorsement of child-molester Roy Moore in Alabama, his deranged retweeting of anti-Muslim videos from some British neo-Nazi website, and his surreal resurrection of Obama’s alleged Kenyan birth. He can see the end coming, and it’s driving him crazy. President Donald J. Trump knows that he and his White House are surrounded by investigators, and they are asking questions of literally every single person who worked on the Trump campaign and in the Trump White House. He knows, because John Dowd, an old time D.C. lawyer who has been through the wars of Washington scandals, has told him, that once an investigation like Mueller’s starts, you can’t stop it. Like a house of cards collapsing, you can’t move your hands fast enough to grab enough cards to put it back together. It just keeps coming down until the whole thing is on the floor.