By Alexander Mercouris | The Duran
CNN article reveals Russiagate inquiry officials becoming increasingly demoralised and taking out private insurance against future legal action as its investigations draw a blank.
On Friday 4th August 2017 I wrote an article for The Duran in which I discussed the various lines of enquiry that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russiagate inquiry appears to be following.
I said that there appeared to be three main lines of enquiry. Here is what I wrote
What we therefore have is an inquiry that centres on three issues
(1) General Flynn’s interactions with ambassador Kislyak and his financial dealings with RT;
(2) the meeting between Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Junior; and
(3) the money-laundering allegations against Paul Manafort.
Since virtually everything there is to know about General Flynn’s various dealings with Kislyak and the Russians is already known, and literally everything there is to know about the Veselnitskaya-Donald Trump Junior meeting is so also known, my guess is that the focus of Mueller’s investigation are the money-laundering allegations against Paul Manafort.
Simultaneously with my article a much longer article was published by CNN also on Friday 4th August 2017 which at inordinate length and in a very different says essentially the same thing.
Unsurprisingly coming from CNN – one of the news agencies which has being peddling the Russia-Trump campaign conspiracy thesis most enthusiastically – the article takes a radically different and far more lurid view of the present state of Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry than I do. However the CNN article is useful because if read carefully it does provide further inside information not just about the state of Mueller’s inquiry but about the low morale of those conducting it.
Before discussing this further, I must however draw attention to one passage in the CNN article which I strongly feel tips over into outright misrepresentation
By last July when Russian intelligence began releasing troves of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, the FBI had been aware of the DNC intrusion about a year.
Until the stolen emails were weaponized in their release via WikiLeaks and the Russian intelligence’s own site DCLeaks, intelligence and law enforcement officials believed the cyber-intrusion was an intelligence-gathering effort, like many of those that occurred before past elections.
(bold italics added)
Russian intelligence has never ‘released’ any “troves of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee”. The emails were ‘released’ not by Russian intelligence but by Wikileaks.
The January 2016 ODNI report ‘assesses’ that the emails were supplied to Wikileaks by Russian intelligence, but this has not been independently proved and is fiercely contested not just by Wikileaks and the Russians but also by numerous other independent specialists and commentators.
As for how the FBI is supposed to have become “aware of the DNC intrusion about a year” before, I do not understand how the FBI could have been aware of any such thing given that it has never examined the DNC’s computers to establish whether any such ‘intrusion’ ever took place.
Putting this aside, CNN essentially confirms that the focus of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is (1) Paul Manafort’s business affairs, (2) Flynn’s affairs and dealings with ambassador Kislyak; and (3) the meeting between Natalya Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Junior.
It also confirms that the main work being undertaken by the inquiry is focused on unravelling Paul Manafort’s tangled business affairs.
Here however is what CNN tells us about the actual state of the enquiry into Manafort’s business affairs
CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the US officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.
Manafort faces potential real troubles in the probe, according to current and former officials. Decades of doing business with foreign regimes with reputations for corruption, from the Philippines to Ukraine, had led to messy finances.
The focus now for investigators is whether Manafort was involved in money laundering or tax violations in his business dealings with pro-Russia parties in Ukraine. He’s also been drawn into a related investigation of his son-in-law’s real estate business dealings, some of which he invested in.
Manafort has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
(bold italics added)
I am not going to waste time discussing the alleged intercepts of conversations by “suspected” Russian operatives discussing conversations they are supposed to have had with Paul Manafort. We have no idea who these “suspected” operatives are and the wording suggests uncertainty as to whether they were in fact officials of the Russian government. Another part of the CNN article admits that these people – whoever they were – might anyway have been “exaggerating or lying”. What people say to each other about someone else rarely counts for much, all the more so in this case when the timing and circumstances of these allegedly intercepted conversations have not been revealed.
It turns out that Mueller’si inquiry is anyway not paying much attention to these alleged intercepts of conversations either. Instead its focus is in investigating the Ukrainian allegations of Paul Manafort’s “money laundering or tax violations in his business dealings with pro-Russia parties in Ukraine”.
This of course is exactly what I said the inquiry appeared to be doing in the article I wrote on Friday.
It turns out that the result of this investigation of Paul Manafort’s business affairs – which got underway last summer, long before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel – is precisely nothing: “Manafort has not been accused of any wrongdoing”.
The situation with General Flynn turns out to be no different
Flynn drew suspicions in late 2016 when US spy agencies collecting the communications of Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak found Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, discussing the subject of US sanctions on Russia. That appeared to contradict White House claims that Flynn had not discussed sanctions in his talks with Kislyak.
On January 24, Andrew McCabe, then the deputy FBI director, called Flynn at his White House office. He told the retired lieutenant general that he was sending a couple of FBI agents to discuss a matter with him, according to people familiar with what unfolded. Flynn spoke to McCabe without his lawyer present.
At the FBI, the decision to approach Flynn was debated at the highest levels, including by Comey, according to sources familiar with those discussions. FBI officials considered the visit by agents a “duty to warn” matter, a not-uncommon effort by the FBI to warn a US official that foreign spies may be trying to target them.
The agents asked Flynn about the Kislyak calls, in part out of concern that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail over the content of the conversations. Flynn gave a wobbly explanation of events. He initially denied the sanctions discussions, then later claimed he couldn’t remember.
Despite the conflicting accounts, FBI investigators have leaned against seeking charges over the Kislyak discussions. The investigators don’t consider Flynn’s answers to be intentionally dishonest.
Flynn’s lawyers have criticized media reports about his connection to the Russia investigation as peddling “unfounded allegations” and “outrageous claims.”
More troublesome for Flynn, investigators have focused on his lobbying work for the Turkish government, which the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief didn’t initially disclose as required by law. Flynn’s lawyers have since retroactively registered his lobbying.
(bold italics added)
I have never taken seriously the claim that Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak – which both Flynn and Kislyak say were innocuous – amounted to an offence under the Logan Act. I have also been skeptical of the claim that Flynn lied about his December 2016 telephone conversation with Kislyak which got him sacked.
Here is what I wrote about it in an article The Duran published on 14th February 2017 shortly after Flynn was forced to resign
It has been suggested rather portentously that the true reason General Flynn resigned was not because of the conversations he had with Kislyak but because he lied about these conversations to Vice-President Pence, and that a furious Pence has taken umbrage and has insisted that Flynn must go.
This is only marginally less absurd.
Firstly since General Flynn did nothing remotely wrong either by holding the conversations with Kislyak or by what he is reported to have said during them, what he said about them to Vice-President Pence really shouldn’t matter.
Secondly, it is overwhelmingly likely that General Flynn – as he says – simply made a mistake.
As a former intelligence officer General Flynn surely knows that Kislyak’s telephone conversations are monitored by US intelligence. Indeed it is a virtual certainty that as the former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency he has actually seen transcripts of Kislyak’s conversations and of those of other Russian officials.
Given that that is so Flynn would surely have known when he reported to Pence that US intelligence had been listening in to his conversations with Kislyak and that any lie he said to Pence would be quickly discovered. Since he didn’t in fact say anything remotely improper to Kislyak he wouldn’t have had any reason to lie anyway.
Most likely Flynn thought he was being asked whether he had told Kislyak that the Trump administration would lift the sanctions, which he denied doing because he didn’t do so. In the confusion this was mistaken for a denial that the subject of the sanctions was even discussed, when it was in fact touched on, though only in the most innocuous way.
In the rush of events this sort of thing occasionally happens, and in his resignation statement Flynn all but says that this is what happened. It is by far the most plausible explanation for the whole affair, and no-one who is not completely paranoid or who is not pursuing an agenda would think otherwise.
It now turns out that the FBI thinks the same thing. It too it turns out doesn’t believe that Flynn’s answers about his conversation with Kislyak “were intentionally dishonest”.
Flynn simply made a mistake because he could not remember every detail of a conversation which took place whilst he was on holiday and about which he made no notes. There is nothing more to this “scandal” than that.
It turns out that the only crime of which Flynn is now suspected of committing is of failing to report properly payments he received for lobbying work he carried out on behalf of the Turkish government.
Not only is this a purely technical crime – it seems that Flynn did report these payments, though not in the correct way – but it is one which is wholly unrelated to the collusion allegations involving the Trump campaign and Russia.
As I have said previously, if Flynn is ever prosecuted on this charge then I think Trump should pardon him for it.
Before finishing my discussion of the state of the enquiry into the actions of General Flynn, I feel it is only right for me once again to call attention to the shocking way General Flynn has been treated.
A highly decorated soldier of the US military was driven from his job and his reputation has been ruined by the anonymous leaking of classified information about a conversation he carried out properly as part of his work, but which he was falsely alleged to have lied about, but about which it turns out he only made a mistake.
Those responsible should be feeling ashamed of themselves for what they have done, though I doubt they are capable of such feelings.
So we are now in a position to say that the investigation of Paul Manafort has so far drawn a blank, and that there is no Russiagate related issue involving General Flynn at all.
Is there anything else left that the Russiagate inquiry can look into?
Mueller is looking into the conversation between Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Junior. Donald Trump Junior and Jared Kushner have however given detailed accounts of this conversation, which have been multiply corroborated by other witnesses. No evidence has appeared to contradict their accounts, which are unquestionably true. They show that no offence was committed during this conversation, and that it did not set the scene for collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
The investigation of Paul Manafort is therefore drawing a blank, the investigation of Flynn has drawn a blank, and the investigation of the Veselnitskaya-Donald Trump Junior meeting is certain to draw a blank.
It is therefore already possible to say on the basis of the information CNN has provided that the whole Russiagate investigation is failing.
That this is so is in fact confirmed by the despairing comments of some of the sources within the FBI that CNN has itself spoken to. Here is what CNN reports them having said
Even at the FBI, there’s a measure of frustration over the investigation.
After a highly contentious year investigating Hillary Clinton’s private email servers and being accused of swinging the election against her, the FBI finds itself again where officials tried not to be: amid a politically treacherous investigation that has hobbled a new President.
Worse yet, some FBI officials fear the question of whether there was any criminal coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia may never be answered.
One challenge is that tantalizing pieces of intelligence are missing key links because they did not develop long enough for investigators to determine their significance. These include intercepts monitored by US intelligence that showed suggestions of illegal coordination but nothing overt.
Those missing links mean that the FBI and Mueller’s prosecution team may not have enough evidence to bring charges related to possible illegal coordination with a foreign intelligence service. Instead, prosecutors could pursue financial crime charges unrelated to the election.
Investigators also face a big hurdle: those participating in the intercepted communications were foreigners, outside the reach of the FBI, who may be exaggerating or lying about events.
Some FBI officials also blame media coverage dating back to last summer for prompting some communications to cease, and making it more difficult for investigators to monitor the interactions of Russians and campaign associates.
(bold italics added)
In other words, after a year of investigation involving – according to some reports – 3,000 investigators and 14 prosecutors (!) and backed by the combined weight of the US’s massive intelligence community – no evidence of illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians has come to light, and the investigators are giving up hope of ever finding any.
Unsurprisingly some of them are now so worried about the retribution they may one day face because of the relentless way they have conducted an inquiry into literally nothing that CNN reports by them taking out insurance to protect themselves
CNN has learned some of the investigators involved in the probe are buying liability insurance out of concern they could become targets of lawsuits from those who are being investigated, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. The Justice Department covers legal fees for employees sued in the course of their duties, but some of the lawyers want extra protection.
The Justice Department and special counsel’s office both declined to comment on the liability concerns.
(bold italics added)
I have never heard of a situation in which public investigators have felt the need to take out insurance to protect themselves from possible lawsuits by those they are investigating, and that more than any other single fact shows how little faith those undertaking the inquiry have in it.
The despair of the investigators probably explains the pressure to expand the inquiry to look into possible financial crimes carried out by Trump and his associates which are unconnected to the Russiagate allegations.
As I have said previously, expanding the inquiry in that way would be grossly unethical and I doubt that it is actually happening.
All the information set out in the CNN article about Mueller’s investigators combing through Trump’s and his associates’ business affairs look to me like a desperate attempt to find evidence of compromising connections between Trump and his associates and the Russians. I do not believe that it is a fishing expedition to discover evidence of any crime – whether related to the Russians or not – which could be used against Trump. Should such a thing happen I am sure there would be a huge row, with Mueller on the wrong end of it. Here is what someone who spoke to CNN said about that possibility
But some of the people who are now under scrutiny by Mueller see a bait and switch. Instead of collusion, many believe the Mueller probe will instead end up being about past financial troubles.
“They launch an investigation into collusion in the election,” says one person whose client is among those being scrutinized by the Mueller investigators. “Then they go after people because of old business matters that have nothing to do with collusion.”
That is obviously right, and if it were ever to start to happen I am sure the Justice Department – whose Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein is supervising the inquiry – would stamp on it.
The last few days have therefore provided us with a revealing insight into the state of the Russiagate inquiry.
It turns out that far from the inquiry proceeding purposefully forward towards a decisive conclusion – “closing the web” around Trump, in the colourful language of some – it is instead drawing a blank, and its members are becoming increasingly demoralised and frightened to the point that some of them are now taking out private insurance.
Nothing better illustrates the utter futility and absurdity of this whole affair