For nearly two years, since the U.S. intelligence community released its report on the Russian campaign to assist Donald Trump in the 2016 election, the American people have been seeking an answer as to whether the Trump campaign colluded with its Russian counterpart. In the endless speculation about the direction of the investigation, a common view was that maybe the investigation would never implicate President Trump or find any collusion.
But a flurry of recent activity this past week all points in the same direction: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will likely implicate the president, his campaign, and his close associates in aiding and abetting a Russian conspiracy against the United States to undermine the 2016 election.
First, Mueller has clearly identified collusion in the efforts of Trump aides and associates to contact WikiLeaks. In a draft plea agreement provided to conservative operative Jerome Corsi, Mueller details how Roger Stone, who the special counsel notes was in frequent contact with Donald Trump and senior campaign officials, directed Corsi to connect with WikiLeaks about the trove of stolen materials it received from Russia. Corsi subsequently communicated WikiLeaks’ release plan back to Stone, and the Trump campaign built its final message around the email release. That is collusion.
Second, we now know that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn have provided evidence to Mueller related to collusion. In Cohen’s sentencing memo, Mueller said that Cohen provided his office with “useful information” on “Russia-related matters core to its investigation.” One of those central elements, according to the Justice Department: “any links and/or coordination” between the Kremlin and Trump campaign figures. Collusion, in other words.
In Flynn’s sentencing memo Mueller said that Flynn’s false statements to the FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador during the transition were “material” to the investigation into “links or coordination between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”
Third, Mueller has found evidence that Trump was compromised by a hostile foreign power during the election. In his plea deal, Cohen revealed that Trump had repeatedly lied to voters about the then-candidate’s financial ties to Russia. While Trump claimed during the campaign to have no business dealings with Russia, he was negotiating a wildly lucrative business deal not simply with Russian businessmen, but also involving with the Kremlin itself. Trump’s team even reportedly tried to bribe Russian President Vladimir Putin by offering him a $50 million penthouse.
Worse, Russia not only knew that Trump was lying, but when investigators first started looking into this deal, the Kremlin helped Trump cover up what really happened. That made Trump doubly compromised: first, because he was eager to get the financial payout and second because Russia had evidence he was lying to the American people—evidence they could have held over Trump by threatening to reveal at any time.
Since the president’s embarrassing performance at the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin—when he kowtowed to a foreign adversary rather than stand up for American interests—there has been open speculation about what leverage the Kremlin has over him. Now we know at least part of the picture, raising the specter of what other information Putin has, and how he is using it to influence Trump’s policy decisions.
Fourth, we know that Trump has engaged in an increasingly brazen attempt to cover up his actions: installing a political crony to head the Department of Justice by potentially illegal means in an effort to shut down the investigation; using his former campaign chairman and convicted criminal Paul Manafort to find out information about Mueller’s investigation; and even appearing to offer Manafort a pardon if he helps him obstruct the Russia probe. These may be components of an obstruction of justice case, but they also provide strongly circumstantial data points as to how serious Trump himself views the allegations of collusion being levelled against him.
Lastly, federal prosecutors have told us Trump broke the law to influence the 2016 election by hiding evidence of his affairs. Trump clearly had no qualms about breaking the law to win an election.
In the face of what Mueller has revealed, there is little question where this is going. Mueller may still be only showing us part of his hand, but it’s a damn good hand. He has signalled to us he’s found collusion. He has shown us that the president is compromised. He has told us that he has gathered information important to his investigation about contacts with people in the Trump Organization, the campaign, the transition, and even the White House. That’s everyone Trump has been connected with since he started running. And given all the redacted information in his filings and all that he’s been told by cooperating witnesses, we can be confident that Mueller will show us even more.
Mueller is coming. And he is clearly coming for Trump. Not simply for obstructing justice but for conspiring with a hostile foreign power to win an election. This is a scandal unlike any America has ever seen.
Max Bergmann is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress. He served in the State Department from 2011-2017. Sam Berger is the Senior Advisor at the Center for American Progress. He served in the White House from 2010-2017.