One Year In, The Russia Investigations Keep Leading Back To The Investigators

One Year In, The Russia Investigations Keep Leading Back To The Investigators

What was once a no-downside case for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office has now become one with little upside.
Ben Weingarten
By

In February I wrote that the Russiagate collusion-mongers were hurting America far worse than the sole group of Russians the special counsel indicted. The rationale was that in effectively waging a mass disinformation, lawfare, and political campaign against a sitting president, collusion-mongers had already done more damage to our government and society than anything Vladimir Putin could have cooked up.

This is true at a broader level as well. The political establishment that wishes to bring down the Trump presidency daily shows itself willing to eviscerate all norms, from corrupting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court and violating Department of Justice procedures, to perhaps even planting FBI informants inside the Trump campaign. It has exhibited a willingness to undermine national security in the form of gross intelligence and law enforcement politicization, game-playing with redactions, and endless leaks. The establishment has taken such actions under the guise of defending “norms” and protecting “national security.”

In short, we are witnessing an episode of mass projection. Why? Because given that they are increasingly exposed, the Left must keep this charade going, grasping at every possible straw while hoping against hope the Trump administration makes a grave misstep under the heat of various spotlights. Otherwise, they risk their own downfall. The boomerang is real.

How do these folks reconcile their belief in the president’s lawlessness and recklessness with the fact that, after a campaign waged by the entire Clinton machine, months and months of efforts to uncover a smoking gun by the most skilled and hungry of prosecutors, surrounded by swamp creatures who wish to destroy President Trump at every turn, there appears to be no “there” there? The Facebook ads Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released really are not cutting it.

The February Indictment Returns

Let us return to the special counsel, arguably the leading edge of Russiagate, and its February indictment. The increasingly narrow Moscow-specific angle to the investigation has suddenly re-emerged. When the singular litigation effort to date directly implicating the Kremlin with mischief in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—and arguably the sole case remotely squaring with the special counsel’s mandate—comes into question, we best take notice.

Recall that the indictment charged 13 Russians and three front companies with “committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system.” The first of the eight counts for which the defendants were charged hewed the closest to the idea that Russian actors “meddled” or “interfered in” the 2016 election, though absent any “coordination” or “collusion” with the Trump campaign: “Criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States…by impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of State in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.”

While the media hailed it as proving a pro-Trump Russian bias, the indictment chronicles the conspirators’ creation and dissemination of social media content and a handful of rallies supporting both sides of contentious issues as well as presidential candidates across the political spectrum, describing the conspirators’ ultimate “strategic goal” as seeking to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The evidence cited in the indictment illustrated a sort of clownishness and crudeness to these efforts, as if the Kremlin was either winking at us, or its agents were about as able as a Lada. It also revealed just how paltry in price and minimal in reach these efforts were in context of a multi-billion-dollar election in this age of 24/7 media. What a return on investment they have received.

A Slam Dunk Turned Into a Slam

Regardless, Special Counsel Robert Mueller surely believed his team had a slam dunk. This was arguably the most justified indictment specifically relating to Russian attempts to impact our election. Even better, those charged would likely never appear in court, let alone challenge the charges. Case closed.

As Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor and clarion legal voice in the ongoing Russiagate travails, asserted at the time of the special counsel’s victory lap:

When prosecutors are serious about nabbing law-breakers who are at large, they do not file an indictment publicly. That would just induce the offenders to flee to or remain in their safe havens. Instead, prosecutors file their indictment under seal, ask the court to issue arrest warrants, and quietly go about the business of locating and apprehending the defendants charged. In the Russia case, however, the indictment was filed publicly even though the defendants are at large. That is because the Justice Department and the special counsel know the Russians will stay safely in Russia.

Mueller’s allegations will never be tested in court. That makes his indictment more a political statement than a charging instrument.

Stunningly, the assumption that Mueller’s allegations would never be tested in court has proven false, illustrating the cunning of Russians in adapting their tactics to the conditions the collusion-mongers have provided them.

Russians Call Mueller’s Bluff

In April, lawyers for one of the Russian entities charged in the indictment filed an appearance in federal court. According to reports, the attorneys for Concord Management proceeded to make discovery requests demanding what the special counsel attorneys described as “sensitive intelligence gathering, national security, and foreign affairs information.”

In early May, the federal judge overseeing the case struck down the special counsel’s request to delay arraignment by a month, a delay sought because the Mueller team had argued it was unclear whether Concord had formally accepted its summonses that were to be conveyed to them by way of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia. You don’t say.

The case has now proceeded, with Concord Management filing a not-guilty plea. Its lawyers have started to hammer at the credibility of the indictment and thus the special counsel itself, alleging that one of the three entities charged, “Concord Catering,” did not even exist during the period of activity the indictment covers.

As Politico’s Josh Gerstein foretold in an April article on the appearance of Concord’s lawyers:

[B]y appearing in court through counsel, Concord could force prosecutors to turn over discovery about how the case was assembled as well as evidence that might undermine the prosecution’s theories. In addition, Concord’s move creates the possibility of a trial that could expose sensitive intelligence information without the prospect of ultimately sending anyone to prison.

…Concord is nominally in the restaurant business and is owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an associate of President Vladimir Putin often referred to as ‘Putin’s chef.’ If the gambit was successful, Prigozhin could effectively obtain a trial without putting himself personally at risk.

The Russians will now get to enjoy all the benefits of our legal system without the actual “employees” involved ever likely appearing in court. So what was once a no-downside case for the Mueller special counsel has now become one with little upside.

At best, the Mueller special counsel may be highly embarrassed in being forced to essentially fold by dismissing the indictment, or at least the charges against Concord Management. Of course, this would delegitimize the special counsel by showing that one of its few non-process-crime cases pertaining to its Russia-centric mandate fell apart.

Adding insult to injury, a New York Sun editorial posits the special counsel could find itself facing litigation from Concord Management under the “Hyde Amendment” concerning frivolous criminal prosecutions. Russia will certainly be laughing.

At worst we may see our national security truly threatened by Concord’s discovery process, a legitimate concern that when now invoked will be harder to take seriously. How many times have we seen “national security” concerns raised during the Russiagate saga by the Department of Justice and FBI, only to reveal that the true concern is the job security of those invoking it?

This Is Increasingly Looking Like a Setup Gone Bad

The Concord litigation illustrates the grave defects of the limitless Mueller special counsel investigation that increasingly has to find ways to justify itself. Even in what should have been a simple “win” for the special counsel, we see damaging unanticipated events that affect not only the legitimacy of our justice system and consequently rule of law, but that create a propaganda coup for our Russian adversaries and perhaps even threaten our national security.

The cover-up effort has come into focus because it is so widespread and the fact pattern has played itself out over and over too many times.

Let us state this clearly: The seminal case dealing specifically with the Russian part of the Mueller special counsel mandate—which itself never showed the Russians favored one candidate or “colluded” with the Trump campaign, nor with any witting Americans—may be falling apart.

The Russiagate investigations inevitably seem to lead back to the investigators. This is not because the president’s defenders are running interference. Rather, so many people seem to have been invested in protecting assumed presidential winner Hillary Clinton, then in destroying her opponent and victor Donald Trump, that too many loose ends were never tied up and the malefactors need to cover their tracks. The Mueller special counsel is run by their friends and colleagues.

The cover-up effort has come into focus because it is so widespread and the fact pattern has played itself out over and over too many times. Every day we see more evidence of it in stonewalling, leaking, disingenuously raising national security concerns, contradictory statements, and claims that protecting the integrity of institutions justify unethical if not illegal actions when it is these actions themselves that have destroyed the integrity of those institutions.

There really are people, many of whom were perfectly fine freeing billions of dollars for the Khomeinist regime in Iran, who think the president is one of those monsters of the twentieth century. But increasingly it is very clear that for the non-useful idiots, all of the most insane narratives about Trump must be kept up or their credibility will be shredded.

Democracy is not dying in darkness. The republic is being bludgeoned in broad daylight.

Ben Weingarten is a senior contributor at The Federalist and senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. He is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media, a media consulting and production company dedicated to advancing conservative principles. You can find his work at benweingarten.com, and follow him on Twitter @bhweingarten.

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