One year on.
Robert Mueller’s been heading up the Special Counsel’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling for a whole year.
Is that all? Phew.
Donald Trump tweet: Despite the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt, we have had the most successful first 17 month Administration in U.S. history – by far! Sorry to the Fake News Media and “Haters,” but that’s the way it is!
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the probe. The first is the pro-Trump side of the equation where, if the President had done any wrong, the Mueller investigation would have found it already.
The second side says:
“I think Mueller is working incredibly hard, incredibly fast. The investigation is producing results.
“There’s more than 20 people have already been indicted. Four people from the Trump campaign have already been indicted. Three have even pled guilty.
“So from an investigations standpoint, this is actually moving quite quickly.”
That’s Max Bergmann — he’s a former State Department staffer who now heads up The Moscow Project, a team of investigators looking into the links between the Trump team and Russia.
So, what is the real answer?
Well, it’s hard to say. The Mueller investigation could be days or years away from wrapping up. We. Just. Don’t. Know.
Oh, and by the way, claims by the President’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, that Mueller was “exceeding authority” have been rejected by the courts.
The Mueller probe’s first birthday comes as a number of Russia-related tidbits come together.
● The Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits — primarily regarding the June 9, 2016, “Don Jr Meets Russians” meeting
● The Senate Intelligence Committee completed its report into Russian meddling
● Financial disclosure statements from the President indicate he reimbursed Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment
Enjoy the cake, Bob.
What do all these tidbits mean?
The Senate Judiciary Committee documents feel more like a colouring-in exercise than a lesson in anything new.
Thousands of pages set out how the infamous Trump Tower meeting played out in June 2016. You know, the one where Don Jr was promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Most interesting is who was behind a blocked phone call on the same day as the offer.
Trump Jr spoke twice to a Russian before setting up the meeting. Between those two calls: a four-minute call to a blocked number.
Was it Dad? Don Jr says he can’t remember. Who was on the other end of the phone?
Put down the cake Bob, there’s work to do.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, a bipartisan entity compared to its hyper-partisan House counterpart, has determined that there’s “no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections,” according to its Republican chairman Richard Burr.
The committee has run for 14 months so far and findings and recommendations will soon follow.
The financial disclosures are perhaps the juiciest of this week’s news. They effectively confirm that the President reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels over their alleged affair in 2006.
The same day, The New Yorker reported that a whistleblower who released the President’s lawyers’ financial records did so because other suspicious transactions had gone missing in a government database.
That’s right, records highlighting some of Michael Cohen’s questionable financial transactions have disappeared. Is that you again, Bob? If not, where are they?
For more on the role of Cohen, check out this piece from 7.30 by my colleague Conor Duffy this week.
It’s a big story and that’s why
all most of the cable networks were going with it on Thursday night:
The plot thickens.
By the way, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti and The Mooch are a dream team for TV, right?
I can’t even.
Anyway, Democrats are ramping up their political campaigning as they try to capitalise on the general volatility, attempting to #FlipEverything in 2018:
Note: Cory Booker was presenting that piece for #2020watch but he was way down the list when FiveThirtyEight did an amusing mock draft of Democratic contenders this week.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s robust approach to foreign policy over the past week has had a ripple effect.
Here’s Donald Tusk, President of the European Council:
Donald Tusk tweet: “Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”
Yeesh. Ya gotta admit though, that’s a great line.
Speaking of the world at large, and Mr Trump’s large place in it, the summit with Kim Jong-un remains in question after the North Koreans reverted to type and issued a strong statement walking away from planned talks with South Korea.
What does it mean for Mr Trump’s face-to-face talks with Mr Kim in Singapore next month?
The President is offering a familiar refrain, “we’ll see what happens”. He also said that America will pursue a complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. No ifs, ands or buts.
And he said that, while the US is not seeking Libya-style regime change in North Korea, that may be the net result if a deal can’t be struck:
“Well, the Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea. In Libya we decimated that country. That country was decimated. There was no deal to keep Gaddafi.
“The Libyan model that was mentioned was a much different deal. This would be with Kim Jong-un, something where he’d be there, he’d be in his country, he’d be running his country. That model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely.”
Some are already arguing that this is what you get for negotiating with a regime that doesn’t abide by the rules. David Frum wonders if America and more specifically the President have been duped.
And while the pursuit of peace stalls in Korea, the Middle East exploded into conflict as the US Embassy opened in Jerusalem.
The move from Tel Aviv was a campaign promise by Mr Trump, and happened far quicker than many had expected. It’s been celebrated by his supporters.
Vice-President Mike Pence put it this way:
“From King David’s time to our own, President Trump has now etched his name into the ineffaceable story of Jerusalem.”
But while smiles marked the opening, protesters gathered in Gaza, as the split-screen reality played out live on TV.
The tabloids were cutting:
By day’s end, the number of dead was in the dozens, and thousands more were injured, including children.
The White House blamed Hamas for the protests. Israel argued the response was proportionate and an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council was called by Kuwait.
The President has certainly etched his name into Middle East history. But how that story ends remains unclear.
What I’m reading and watching
By the numbers
These are the 16 juiciest White House leaks of 2018, according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.
By the way, those financial disclosures also revealed that Mr Pence had made money off his pet bunny:
Dave Levinthal tweet: “MONEY BUNNY: Pence family rabbit, Marlon Bundo, helped @VP and Karen Pence earn up to $50,000 last year.”
Take us out, Deplorable Choir:
The Deplorable Choir tweet: “New Song! Trump is winning YUGE!! Can’t expect the fake news media to report it, so we’re here to enlighten the liberals!”