Earlier this week, there was yet another drip in the special counsel investigation. This time, Robert S. Mueller III’s team recommended no prison time for President Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, because he was so cooperative in several ongoing investigations.
That revelation, which came in the form of a heavily redacted court filing, provided some crucial new pieces of information. Flynn sat down for 19 separate interviews with investigators at the Department of Justice. It doesn’t take a D.C. insider to realize that if investigators ask you to meet them 19 different times, you’re providing them with crucial evidence. That’s bad news for Trump. But how bad? We don’t know, and we won’t know, until the next tantalizing detail emerges.
The Flynn filing reflects how the Mueller investigation has relentlessly percolated, providing information to the public with methodical precision rather than releasing it in a single deluge. In the age of Trump, every news story competes for attention against the latest outrageous Trump tweet, lie or bizarre statement. Each drip of the Mueller investigation recaptures the public’s attention. But it’ll take a flood to sweep Trump out of office.
Today, it’s clear that the waters are rising. Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was reportedly questioned as part of Mueller’s probe into alleged obstruction of justice. A new filing is expected to outline how Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, continued to lie and deceive investigators even after he had previously agreed to cooperate. Of particular interest are reports that Manafort deceived investigators about his ties to Konstantin Kilimnik, a shady figure that the FBI has said is linked to Russian intelligence services. And separately, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York will file a sentencing memo, which may reveal whether investigators deem Michael Cohen’s cooperation to be valuable enough to warrant a reduced sentence.
We all know what comes next. As it always does, Trump’s Fox News protection racket will follow its playbook: downplay and distract. Sean Hannity and his fellow misinformation agents in the prime-time “news” slots will repeat the same tired act: Defend the president, insist that Mueller is on a “witch hunt,” and then attack Hillary Clinton. It works because, in isolation, any individual drip can be wiped away. But it’s getting old.
Likewise, Trump’s unhinged stream of tweets about the investigation are already so worn out and predictable that they sometimes seem to be randomly plucked out of a red MAGA hat that only contains the phrases “witch hunt!”; “James Comey!”; “Hillary Clinton”; and “NO COLLUSION!” They are surely only convincing to the already converted who proudly sport their own red hats.
For those who have not been initiated into the Trumpian cult of personality or who are outside the cheerleading media vortex that is Fox News, the drips are really starting to add up. Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, foreign policy adviser, former national security adviser and personal lawyer are all now felons who were either convicted of crimes or pleaded guilty to them. Moreover, those crimes and their related disqualifying behaviors are serious. They include conspiracy against the United States, campaign finance violations that may have had a decisive impact on the 2016 election, and acting as an unregistered foreign agent of a foreign authoritarian regime.
And while it remains unclear, it is certainly plausible that Trump himself was directly involved in those criminal schemes. After all, Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, directly implicated his former boss in directing the campaign finance criminal conspiracy.
Now, after the midterm elections, Mueller can be more active without being accused of trying to influence voters. Eventually, Mueller will produce his team’s final report — the full incriminating picture, all at once.
The Mueller report will be harder for Trumpian sycophants to shrug off. It’ll be harder for Trump’s supporters and surrogates to ignore the mounting evidence of criminality that, at best, surrounds the president and the now-convicted felons he hired for top jobs and, at worst, directly implicates Trump himself.
Moreover, the report will likely be supplemented by findings from the criminal investigations into Trump’s secret payments to alleged mistresses and the investigations that House Democrats launch come January.
If Trump’s presidency is going to end prematurely, it will require a flood. Mueller’s activities this week — and the activities of the other investigations swirling around the president — make clear that he would be wise to prepare for one.