As readers of The Duran will know I have until recently given Special Counsel Robert Mueller the benefit of the doubt. The events of the last few weeks make it impossible to go on doing so.
The reason for this is only partly connected to Mueller’s own actions. Rather it arises mainly from what is now known of the conduct during last year’s Presidential election of the FBI, the agency which Mueller headed for twelve years, and of which he was director just four years ago.
Extraordinary as the fact still seems to me, the FBI never carried out its own independent investigation of the claimed hacks of the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers. Instead the FBI accepted in their entirety the opinions of a private company – CrowdStrike – which was privately commissioned to carry out the investigation into the alleged hacks by the DNC itself.
As I have said on many occasions, I have never come across a situation where a police agency instead of carrying out its own investigation into an alleged crime relies on the opinions of a private investigator paid for by the alleged victim. That seems to me both extraordinary and ethically dubious in the extreme. Yet that in relation to the alleged hacks of the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers is what the FBI has done.
However it gets worse.
It has now also been established that the FBI over the course of last year also took on trust the Trump Dossier, a concoction also paid for by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Moreover it seems that it actually sought and obtained FISA warrants to undertake surveillance during the election of members of the Trump campaign and of friends and associates of Donald Trump on the strength of this Dossier. Despite earlier denials, it now seems a virtual certainty that Donald Trump’s own conversations were picked up and monitored as a result of this surveillance.
However the single most incendiary disclosure relating to the Trump Dossier is that in the weeks following the US Presidential election the FBI apparently took over the payments to Christopher Steele – the compiler of the Trump Dossier – from the DNC, and therefore acted as Christopher Steele’s client. Presumably that means that the final entry of the Trump Dossier, which is dated December 2016, was paid by the FBI.
In other words instead of arriving its suspicions of Russian meddling in the Presidential election on its own investigations the FBI chose to rely on the work of two private contractors – CrowdStrike and Christopher Steele – both of whom were found and paid for by the DNC, and one of whom – Christopher Steele – was then passed on by the DNC to the FBI so that he could be paid by them as well.
That makes the FBI look more like an accomplice of the Democrats and the DNC than an impartial and objective police agency.
I would again refer to Joe Lauria’s excellent article, which thoroughly discusses the very disturbing implications of all this,
It appears moreover that it was the FBI which arranged for the Trump Dossier to be included in the ODNI report provided to President Obama and to President elect Trump in January 2017, and it seems likely that many of the leaks that drove the Russiagate scandal in its first months – including the illegal leaks which forced the resignation of President Trump’s first National Security Adviser General Flynn – originated from within the FBI.
Compounding the concerns which naturally arise from all this are the FBI’s apparent attempts to protect Hillary Clinton from the legal consequences of her use of a private server for her emails whilst Secretary of State, even though this was clearly contrary to the law.
Though the offence Hillary Clinton is alleged to have committed was an offence of strict liability – which is to say that it is irrelevant what her intentions were when she committed the offence – and though Hillary Clinton failed to provide the FBI with all the emails that passed through her private server, apparently deleting 30,000 of them – which ought at the very least to have raised the question of a possible obstruction of justice – the FBI’s Director James Comey took it on himself in breach of procedure to close down the investigation into her actions and to give her in effect a clean bill of health.
No investigation of the Russiagate scandal which fails to look into these activities by the FBI can be considered impartial or complete.
However Mueller, because of his long association with the FBI – whose director he was for twelve years, with his directorship ending just four years ago – is far too close to the FBI to conduct such an investigation.
This precise point was recently made – though in a convoluted and over-complicated way – by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal which last week called on Mueller to resign. To my knowledge this is the first occasion that a major media institution in the US has called Mueller’s conduct into question and called on him to resign.
Though the Wall Street Journal editorial muddied the waters by insinuating that there might have been collusion between the Democrats and the Russians to discredit the US electoral process (this obviously refers to the Democrat-funded Trump Dossier which is supposed to be based on Russian sources) its underlying point is valid, and it is one which I suspect more and more people in Washington are thinking.
That Mueller himself is increasingly feeling the pressure is shown by the strange series of indictments he issued this week.
As I have previously pointed out, neither indictment – neither the one against Manafort and Gates nor the one against Papadopoulos – in fact touches on the central claim of the Russiagate conspiracy theory: that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to steal the election from Hillary Clinton by publishing stolen emails in order to discredit her.
The indictment against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates does not touch on the Russian collusion allegations at all but is concerned solely with Manafort’s complex business activities, especially as these relate to Ukraine.
The indictment against George Papadopoulos does not touch on the Russian collusion allegations either but is based purely on Papadopoulos’s telling of falsehoods to the FBI over the course of an interview he had with them in January 2017.
What has been overlooked in all the discussions of these two indictments is the shaky ground upon which they rest.
Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates are – in the vivid language of today – ‘swamp creatures’ ie. longstanding insiders operating as privileged members of the US political and business elite. I for one am perfectly willing to believe that the allegations against them are in essence true.
However that does not change the fact that the indictment which has been brought against them looks under-prepared.
Usually it takes years of painstaking investigation to issue an indictment of this sort. This indictment was however issued just seven months after Mueller was appointed Special Counsel.
The result is that it contains obvious errors which one would not expect to find in an indictment of this sort, such as its mistaken claim that Viktor Yanukovych’s predecessor as President of Ukraine was Yulia Tymoshenko whereas in fact it was actually Viktor Yushchenko.
The impression one is left with from reading the indictment is that Mueller has simply accepted the truth of the current Ukrainian government’s claims of corruption by Manafort, and has combined them with the fact that Manafort operates a large number of foreign bank accounts, to cook up a case of Manafort being corrupt.
That may of course turn out to be so. However past experience shows that one should be very slow to accept Ukrainian allegations of corruption on trust, whilst it is not illegal – and is in fact very common – for an international lawyer and business consultant like Manafort to operate a large number of foreign bank accounts both for himself and for his clients.
One would expect to find in an indictment of the sort more evidence of the source of the money in the bank accounts than in fact appears, and it is difficult to avoid the impression that in the rush to issue the indictment corners have been cut.
The risk is that Manafort and Gates at their trial will be able to provide a full account of where the money came from or will at least be able to give an account for the origin of the money that will satisfy a jury. In that case the whole case could collapse.
Judging from the submissions Manafort and Gates have made for their bail applications that is precisely the approach they intend to take.
I would add that the fact that Manafort has more than one US passport is not proof of the fraud claims which have been made against him, whilst he and his lawyers are already pouring scorn on the part of the case against him which is based on the Foreign Agents Registration Act, pointing out – apparently correctly – that only six prosecutions under this Act have been brought since the 1960s, of which only one has ended in a conviction.
However if the indictment against Manafort and Gates looks rushed and under prepared, Manafort and Gates nonetheless do have a case to answer. By contrast I cannot see the logic of the prosecution which has been brought against Papadopoulos at all.
The picture of Papadopoulos which has emerged over the last few days – including from the indictment against him – is of a young man (he is only 30) who was seriously out of his depth, and who was either deceived by Professor Misfud and the various Russians he was dealing with or – more likely – was someone who got carried away by his own fantasies that he was a great diplomat who would single-handedly bring Putin and Trump together so as to bring about a rapprochement between Russia and the US and secure world peace.
None of his activities – which centred on his attempts to set up a meeting before the election between Putin and Trump – however fantastic they might have been, were however in the least unlawful or can be said to have done any harm.
His bosses in the Trump campaign seem to have been skeptical of his efforts to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump, and in the event that meeting never took place, with the Russian government probably completely unaware of Papadopoulos’s activities. It seems all the Russians he dealt with – including the Russian woman he either took for “Putin’s niece” or said was “Putin’s niece” – were not Russian government officials but the staff of a Moscow think-tank he was introduced to by Professor Mifsud.
As for the notorious comment which Papadopoulos attributes to Professor Mifsud – that the Russians had “dirt on Hillary Clinton” and “thousands of her emails” – Professor Mifsud denies that he ever made the comment, there is no record or independent corroboration that he ever made the comment, there is apparently no record of Papadopoulos informing his bosses at Trump headquarters about the comment, there is nothing about Professor Mifsud’s background which suggests the Russians would trust him with the information he would need to make the comment, and the comment – if it was made at all – anyway unquestionably refers to Hillary Clinton’s own emails – the ones which passed through her private server whilst she was Secretary of State – and not to the Podesta and DNC emails, which are the ones that the Russiagate scandal is all about.
As to the last point – that Professor Mifsud’s alleged comment was about Hillary Clinton’s own emails and not those of Podesta or the DNC – the wording of paragraph 14 of the indictment puts this beyond doubt
The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as defendant PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”, “the Russians had emails of Clinton“; “they have thousands of emails”
(bold italics added)
In my previous articles about the Papadopoulos indictment I had overlooked the fact that the wording of paragraph 14 of the indictment clearly identifies the emails that Professor Mifsud is supposed to have talked about as Hillary Clinton’s emails, and not as the DNC’s or John Podesta’s emails.
In other words the Papadopoulos indictment not only fails to provide any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to steal the election from Hillary Clinton, but the comment about the emails about which so much has been said is – if it was said at all – a total red herring, of no relevance to the Russiagate inquiry.
This of course begs the question of why in that case is Papadopoulos being charged?
If Papadopoulos’s activities were harmless – which they were – and if he engaged in no collusion with the Russians – which he didn’t – and if the comment about the emails which he passed on to the FBI (during it should be noted his first meeting with the FBI in January 2017) is wholly irrelevant to the Russiagate inquiry – as it is – why is he being charged?
Does mixing up the dates of his first meeting with Professor Mifsud and downplaying the extent of his contacts with people who were actually of no importance really justify bringing charges against him and forcing him into a guilty plea?
Not for the first time I find myself in wholehearted agreement with the sentiments of The Duran’s reader André de Koning, who has written the following comment on a thread to one of my previous articles about the Papadopoulos indictment
Good to know that the FBI and/or CIA are so particular about somebody lying: they are such wonderful guardians of truth.
In truth the charges against Papadopoulos seem ludicrously disproportionate to what he is supposed to have done, especially given the fact that he was already fully cooperating with the FBI and had gone to some lengths to set the record straight before the charges were brought against him.
For the record I think the treatment of him is cruel.
It is impossible to avoid the impression that the charges against Papadopoulos have been brought and were made public together with his guilty plea – a few days moreover after the Wall Street Journal called for Mueller’s resignation – in order to create an impression that the Russiagate inquiry is making progress, when in reality it is making none.
As for the indictment against Manafort and Gates, Mueller is acting here more like a policeman trying to build a case than as an investigator seeking to find out what actually happened.
That is a lamentable state of affairs, and one which has surely arisen because of the conflict between Mueller’s loyalty to the FBI – the organisation he headed for twelve years and of which until just four years ago he was director, and whose reputation he therefore has a vested interest in wanting to protect – and his duties as an impartial investigator.
The Russiagate investigation should not be closed down. On the contrary its scope needs to be expanded to look into the conduct of the FBI and the rest of the US intelligence community during the Presidential election. Enough is already known about this to give cause for serious concern.
That certainly does require Special Counsel to head this investigation. However that person quite clearly cannot be Robert Mueller.
It is time for him to go and for the investigation to be taken over by someone else who is not just more distant from the agencies which will have to be investigated if the job is to be done properly, but who also has a better grasp of the political and legal issues.
A senior lawyer or a retired Judge willing to listen to the evidence of experts – including historians and genuine Russia experts – would seem to be what the situation requires.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.