Opinion writer

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“The completely inconceivable idea that . . . the president of the United States is an active agent of Russian intelligence, no longer seems completely unthinkable.”

More than a year ago, the Lawfare blog laid out “Seven theories of the case: What do we really know about l’affaire Russe and what could it mean?” It was all rather fanciful then. Now that we have been hit with a raft of documents from both special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, Garrett Graff believes that Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election is nearing the worst-case scenario.

“We have rapidly entered a territory of the worst-case scenario for the United States here, where the thing that you most try to avoid in politics is a situation where the head of state of your country can be blackmailed by a foreign power or foreign adversary,” Graff told me during the latest episode of “Cape Up.” Graff is the author of “The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI and the War on Global Terror” and is a part of that small but potent crew of journalists that intimately knows the ins-and-outs of Mueller’s investigation.

“We now know that [the Russians] actually did have, for the last two years,” Graff explained, “compromising material and potential leverage on Donald Trump, which is that Russia knew that Donald Trump and his campaign and his associates had been lying about the extent of their business dealings with Russia, and that the Trump Tower Moscow project was both more serious and continued longer than they had said publicly.”

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“Bob Mueller clearly is building a conspiracy case here that appears more tightly intertwined than we had perhaps once considered,” Graff said. “Remember, federal prosecutors and special counsel Robert Mueller have identified two separate criminal conspiracies that aided the election of Donald Trump in 2016.” One of them being the payments — made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, during the closing days of the campaign — to two women to keep them quiet about past affairs with Trump. “They have solid documentary evidence, perhaps even direct recordings of the conversation that made clear that Donald Trump participated in this criminal conspiracy,” said Graff of investigators.

But he noted that this conspiracy involving Cohen dovetails with the other criminal conspiracy. “What Michael Cohen’s plea agreement about lying to Congress says is that the central figure in one of those criminal conspiracies, Michael Cohen, was attempting to contact and get help from the central figure of the other criminal conspiracy, Vladimir Putin, in the midst of this presidential campaign while Russia was actively working to attack Hillary Clinton and aid Donald Trump.”

Listen to the podcast to understand why Graff says “Mueller is laying out all of these breadcrumbs in his documents that are just so intriguing and, you have to think, point to puzzle pieces that we haven’t seen yet.” Said breadcrumbs revolve around these three dates in 2016 — June 16, July 23 and July 27. And Graff said that if Trump does indeed fire Mueller, it won’t stop the investigation.


Robert S. Mueller III in Washington in August 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

“In many ways, this investigation is now too far along to be effectively shut down,” Graff noted. "It’s spread across a lot of different prosecutors' offices at this point, so even if you fire Mueller, there are going to be other prosecutors and other investigators working in other offices to push this forward.”

And Graff added this useful observation that we should all keep in mind: “In most cases, Mueller is running four to six months ahead of where we think he is publicly.”

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