Trump should prepare for ‘a long winter’ as Mueller asks about Russian contacts ‘not yet public’

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Steven Green / Flickr White House in 2016 Blizzard Explored...
Steven Green / Flickr

In 1869, Charles Minard created a chart that shows the dwindling size of Napoleon’s army as the battered French force attempted to leave Russia with crushing cold dogging them at every step. The chart is widely regarded as an act of genius, a near-revolutionary compression of multiple dimensions of data onto the flat space provided by a sheet of paper. It takes a bit of looking to see what the page is showing, but after a moment it’s clear—a force the size of a large city marches off, while one the size of a village straggles back.

Donald Trump may not be carrying the Little Corporal’s numbers (unless it’s in Twitter followers), but someone at the White House needs to warm up an ink pen, because it sounds like there will be plenty of opportunity for some interesting graphs of Trump’s legal retreat from Russia.

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller’s team “working through the staff like Pac-Man.”

“Of course they are worried,” said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Anybody that ever had the words ‘Russia’ come out of their lips or in an email, they’re going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It’s going to be a long winter.”

To keep Le Emperor Trump happy, attorney and man who’s mustache makes Hercule Poirot think “that looks ridiculous,” Ty Cobb, has been giving him happy news from the front.

Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. … The president himself … has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe.

How soon?

Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving …

Except … maybe not.

Now that turkey time is approaching and it’s clear that Mueller is speeding up rather than wrapping up, Cobb has made some slight adjustments.

… in an interview last week, saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.

Cobb is confident that everything is going to be handled quickly and easily because it won’t look at money laundering related to real estate trading and won’t go back beyond the campaign season.

“I’ve done my best, without overstepping, to share my view that the perception of the inquiry — that it involved a decade or more of financial transactions and other alleged issues that were mistakenly reported — just wasn’t true, and that the issues were narrower and wholly consistent with the mandate provided by the Justice Department to the Office of the Special Counsel,” Cobb said.

The mandate provided to the special counsel is actually pretty darn wide.

The special counsel investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia’s government has taken over a separate criminal probe involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and may expand his inquiry to investigate the roles of the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press has learned.

The indictments against Manafort are specifically for the “financial transactions” that Cobb said were not part of the investigation, and include charges related to activities as early as 2005 using LLCs that were created as early as 2002—which would seem to fit the definition of more than a decade ago.

But the reassurances from Cobb and others — which seem at least partially aimed at keeping the president calm and focused on governing — are viewed by others as naive.

“The president says, ‘This is all just an annoyance. I did nothing,’ ” said one person close to the administration. “He is somewhat arrogant about it. But this investigation is a classic Gambino-style roll-up. You have to anticipate this roll-up will reach everyone in this administration.”

If there are actually some hands in the Trump White House free both from working to conspire with Russia in the 2016 election, and from working to weaken sanctions in order to preserve the pipeline of Russian funds flowing into shady real-estate deals … we’ve yet to meet them.

Witnesses questioned by Mueller’s team warn that investigators are asking about other foreign contacts and meetings that have not yet become public, and to expect a series of new revelations. Investigators are especially focused on foreign officials’ contacts with Michael Flynn, a campaign adviser and later Trump’s national security adviser, witnesses said.

The investigation isn’t going to be over by Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Or Donald Trump’s birthday (June 14, if you’re wondering). 

But the chart of Trump’s loses between now and then should be really interesting.

Charles Minard
Charles Minard’s 1869 chart

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