[IMPORTANT NOTE: The Trump-Russia Timeline now appears at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security.]
Last week, the most successful special counsel in history added two more notches to his holster. But Robert Mueller is letting others wear it. For him, a good result in the defense of American democracy matters; who gets credit for it does not. He is a living lesson in leadership by example.
The Americans (on Television) Comes to Life
On Dec. 13, Maria Butina appeared in court to present the guilty plea agreement that she had signed a few days earlier. Butina admitted that during the 2016 campaign, she conspired against the United States to promote Russian influence over the Republican Party via the NRA. She also agreed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, including Mueller. Her story isn’t over.
The Butina investigation was well within the special counsel’s investigative mandate, but he farmed it out to Trump’s chosen US attorney for the District of Columbia, Jesse Liu. On the official Justice Department scorecard, she gets the win.
Cohen: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
At least nominally, the other big federal prosecutorial victory last week isn’t a Mueller case, either. The special counsel had referred the investigation of Michael Cohen to the US attorney for the Southern District of New York. As with Liu, Trump interviewed Geoffrey Berman personally before appointing him to that position.
To his credit, Berman recused himself from the Cohen investigation and deputy US attorney Robert Khuzami for the Southern District has ben running the show. Like Butina, Cohen continues to meet with Mueller, so the ripples from that case aren’t over, either.
Shortly after a federal judge sentenced Cohen to three years in prison, the US attorney’s office in New York announced a non-prosecution agreement with the National Enquirer‘s parent company. Coupled with Cohen’s testimony, the company’s related “Statement of Admitted Facts” put Trump squarely in the crosshairs of a felony for conspiring to violate campaign finance laws. But Khuzami is holding the weapon, not Mueller.
Why Does Mueller Do It?
Although Robert Mueller has not been speaking to the press, he hasn’t been living under a rock. From the early days of his appointment as special counsel, he has known that Trump and his minions systematically sought to undermine Mueller’s personal credibility, the Trump-Russia investigation, and the rule of law.
Next week’s update will include the independent reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee. They confirm that Russia’s massive social media influence campaign continued long past the election. Having put Trump in the White House, Putin has been trying to protect him by joining his attacks on Mueller.
Mueller’s Response: Speed and Strategy
With something akin to the sword of Damocles hanging overhead and arrows coming from all sides, Mueller has moved swiftly. Even without the threats to his investigation, perhaps he would have moved at the same pace. But the special counsel investigations in Iran-Contra and Watergate continued for more than four years. Already, Mueller has far more indictments, convictions, and plea agreements to show for his 18-month effort than either of those probes.
Mueller has also moved strategically. Some elements of his approach reveal themselves in the sequence of his indictments, criminal complaints, and plea agreements. But another example is his referral of some investigations to other US attorneys.
Mueller could have retained the Butina, Cohen, and other cases that he has referred to other US attorney offices. But the referrals assure that, at least in some form, the Trump-Russia investigation will survive, even if Trump and his minions limit, terminate, or mute Mueller’s efforts.
Other US attorneys may get credit for successful past and future prosecutions relating to various tentacles of the Trump-Russia octopus. Observers paying close attention know the truth: Before all of the investigations are over, Mueller is gonna need a bigger holster — even if he allows others to wear it occasionally.
Here are the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline now at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:
MAR. 24, 2015: Butina and Erickson Draft ‘Diplomacy’ Project; Russia Approves (revision of previous entry)
AUGUST 2015: Trump-Pecker-Cohen Deal to Silence Women (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 11, 2015: NRA Leaders Meet with Wife of Butina’s Financial Backer (revision of previous entry)
MAR. 10-11, 2016: Butina Works With Erickson; Thanks O’Neill for Helping US-Russia Relations (revision of previous entry)
APR. 23-28, 2016: Torshin Gives Butina Another Task (revision of previous entry)
JUN. 22, 2016: Erickson Suggests Language for Butina’s Report to Torshin (revision of previous entry)
JUL. 25, 2016: Stone Tells Corsi to Get WikiLeaks’ Hacked Emails (revision of previous entry)
JULY 31, 2016: Stone to Corsi: ‘Malloch Should See Assange’
AUG. 5, 2016: Pecker Buys Rights to Karen McDougal’s Story; Trump Directs Cohen to Violate Campaign Finance Laws (revision of previous entry)
AUGUST 2016: Butina Enters US on Student Visa (revision of previous entry)
SEPT. 16, 2016 Butina Tries to Schedule ‘Friendship and Dialogue’ Dinner (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 4, 2016: Erickson Writes About Private Line of Communication with Kremlin (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 5, 2016: Butina and Torshin Exchange Messages: ‘We Made Our Bet’ (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 6-7, 2016: Intelligence Community Publishes Statement on Russian Interference; Stone to Corsi: ‘Tell Assange to Start Dumping’; Access Hollywood Tapes Released (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 8-9, 2016: Butina: ‘I Am Ready For Further Orders’ (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 11, 2016: Butina Asks for Russian Reaction to Trump’s Possible Secretary of State Nominee (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 30, 2016: Butina Writes About Establishing US-Russia ‘Back Channel’ (revision of previous entry)
JUL. 18, 2018: Butina Held Without Bail Pending Trial (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 7, 2018: Whitaker Meets with Kushner
DEC. 8, 2018: Butina Pleads Guilty; Erickson Note Revealed
DEC. 10, 2018: Trump Tweets: ‘NO COLLUSION’, ‘WITCH HUNT’, ‘No SMOCKING GUN’; ‘Cohen Just Trying To Get His Sentence Reduced’; Blasts Comey (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 11, 2018: Trump Attacks Comey; Claims Bias in FBI
DEC. 11, 2018: Trump on Dismisses Impeachment Concerns: ‘People Would Revolt’
DEC. 12, 2018: Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison
DEC. 12, 2018: SDNY Announces Non-Prosecution Deal with AMI
DEC. 13, 2018: Trump Tweets Attack Cohen, Criticize Flynn’s ‘Great Deal’, ‘Witch Hunt!’
DEC. 13, 2018: DOJ Inspector General Issues Report on Missing Strzok/Page Text Messages
DEC. 15, 2018: Trump Tweets: Press Should Cover ‘REAL story on Russia, Clinton & the DNC’, Attacks Strzok and Lisa Page, Again
DEC. 16, 2018: Trump Tweets About SNL: ‘A REAL Scandal Is The One-Sided Coverage’; Attacks Strzok and Lisa Page, Again; Calls Cohen a ‘Rat’; Quotes Starr on ‘Collusion’; Tweets About Corsi, Flynn; ‘Witch Hunt’