As Mr. Mueller Proceeds, There Is No Need For Speed

As Mr. Mueller Proceeds, There Is No Need For Speed

Every day, we learn more about questionable links between Russia and the Trump Organization, the Trump presidential campaign, and people in Trump's orbit. Much of what we learn - including indictments and pleas secured by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office - contradicts Trump's denials of Russian interference with the election and Trump's assertions that he and his businesses had, and have, no business with Russia.

We all probably want Mr. Mueller to indict, prosecute, and convict, as quickly as possible, any criminal actors around - and including - Trump's friends and family. It's better, however, if Mueller doesn't consider speed for our gratification to be essential or even relevant to his success.

The more carefully he proceeds, the more airtight his indictments and convictions are likely to be. There's another important reason to go slowly, but we can't know if Mueller is even considering it: protecting his status as Special Counsel so he can secure more indictments and convictions.

Most recently, the subject of Trump and Russia has been illuminated by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Totally Fed Up With Senator Chuck Grassley). She decided to release the transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee's interview with Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS. Mr. Simpson oversaw the Fusion GPS research project that led to the production of the Steele Dossier, the raw-intelligence collection that so alarmed its author, Christopher Steele, that he went to the FBI to warn them about Trump's vulnerability to blackmail. This past week, the release of the entire Simpson Judiciary Committee transcript consumed much media oxygen - that is, until Mr. Trump decided to slander Haiti, Central America, and Africa.

Meanwhile, Mueller proceeds, largely out of the public eye and with very few leaks, but with occasional eruptions of news, like the pleas of Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos and the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, Manafort's business partner. There is endless speculation in the media about the course of Mueller's investigation and its ultimate destination. All we can certainly say is that we won't know 'til we know, chiefly because Mueller appears to be following the evidence where it might lead, with no observable preconceptions about where to follow it.


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In the background of the speculation about the Mueller investigation is the disturbing possibility that Mr. Trump will fire Mr. Mueller, even if Trump has to fire half the leadership of the Department of Justice to find someone in the food chain who will lower himself or herself to do the deed. Trump keeps saying he won't fire Mueller, but Trump is an impulsive and continuous liar, so we won't know what Trump will do until he does it - an ironic kind of symmetry with the Mueller investigation itself.

Notably, Paul Manafort was the subject of two new lawsuits this week that bear on the question whether Mr. Mueller will survive Mr. Trump or vice versa. Manafort is the plaintiff in one suit and the defendant in the other.

As plaintiff, Mr. Manafort has filed a federal civil action against Mr. Mueller; it asserts that Mueller's investigation has exceeded its jurisdiction and, therefore, that Mueller's indictment of Manafort should be dismissed. The apparent consensus among legal scholars about this lawsuit is that it has no merit.

As is customary in such matters, there probably will be "motion practice" before anything else happens in Manafort's lawsuit: the Office of Special Counsel will file a motion or motions to dismiss, and/or motion(s) for summary judgment. The former kind of motion generally means the lawsuit altogether lacks any basis in fact or law on which the court could accept jurisdiction and allow the suit to proceed; a summary judgment motion asserts that, even if the court accepts as true every factual allegation in the complaint, the suit should be dismissed as a matter of law.

As defendant, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates have been sued for more than $25M by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Putin. Deripaska allegedly partnered with Manafort and gave him more than $18M for a project that didn't pan out. Mr. Deripaska wants his money back. You'd think a Russian oligarch and friend of Putin would be able to guess where it went, but it appears he wants more certainty.

There will doubtless be motion-practice in the Deripaska lawsuit, too. If it gets to discovery it should be very informative. But, even before that happens, an interesting element of Deripaska's suit is that it's based on allegations in Mueller's indictment of Manafort. This supports an inference that Mr. Mueller is getting to facts, notwithstanding the insults thrown in his direction by Trump's enablers and defenders.

And, most recently, the Special Counsel has asked for trial dates on the Manafort and Gates indictments. It appears the Special Counsel wants to go to trial in May. We'll see next whether Manafort and Gates want to go to the trial then or ask for more time. Even if they go to trial in May, the complexity of the charges relating to money-laundering could take weeks to try and a jury to digest and decide.

So...two additional civil lawsuits on Russia-related matters are now on the boards besides prosecutions commenced by Mueller. So far.

Relative to other things, like NASCAR races, lawsuits move slowly. Months can pass in motion-practice, while the parties exchange pleadings and judges deliberate on their decisions. Discovery - the production and exchange of relevant documents and depositions by the parties and people who are not parties to the proceedings - can take months or years. Jury trials on complex factual issues, like large-scale money-laundering, can take months to try and decide.

It would be amusing, therefore, to hear Trump's lawyers latest predictions about when the Russian inconveniences will be behind him. First, they predicted Thanksgiving of last year, then shortly after Christmas. Now...? Who knows what they're telling Trump about when to expect an end to all of this.

The slow grinding of the wheels of justice and the multiplication of other legal actions besides Mueller's prosecutions might be beneficial to Mr. Mueller. Trump seems to pay attention to what's in front of him, specifically on Fox and Friends and other similar trash. If Mueller is not the subject of those programs, Trump's attention will focus elsewhere.

If Trump isn't paying attention to Mueller, he probably won't fire Mueller. So, it's to Mueller's advantage if his profile remains low and other matters occupy Trump. It might not be good for us, because Trump's attention to any subject of governance is always destructive; however, it might keep Mueller in office and on course until - we hope - he secures more convictions and, perhaps, helps end this disgraceful presidency.

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