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Robert Mueller Doesn’t Need a Smoking Gun
The latest indictments suggest a pattern of behavior on the part of Trump and his associates—the kind of pattern that brought down Richard Nixon.
By Elizabeth Drew
February 26, 2018
As of the latest indictments and plea agreements, the picture of what may have happened in the 2016 election, and the path that special counsel Robert Mueller is on, are becoming clearer. Washington is impressed with the airtight secrecy of Mueller’s operation—showing that this is possible among professionals who aren’t playing party games.
a bolt from the blue. This could probably be explained by the absence of lawyers for the Russians—unlike those for the Americans whom Mueller wants to talk to, who can be seen coming and going from the federal courthouse and are the sources for most of the stories about the special counsel’s investigation. Consider the contrast with Capitol Hill, where appearances before even closed sessions of the intelligence committees—especially on the House side—leak like the veritable sieve. (This may well explain why Stephen Bannon has declined to appear before a congressional committee, but has talked at some length to the prosecutors. Bannon knows well that his testimony would quickly be reported to the White House by one of its stooges on the committee.)
The picture of the Russia investigation has been filled out by the further indictments last week of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his former top assistant Rick Gates, who then decided to cooperate with the special counsel. As Maggie Haberman of The New York Times has pointed out, the significance of this is not just what Gates can tell prosecutors about Manafort. In Manafort’s testy public statement about Gates’s decision to flip, he made it clear that he’s worried about what Gates might tell the prosecutors about him, but also stressed that Gates had stayed with the Trump team after Manafort was fired in August of 2016. In particular, Gates remained during the transition and then worked for a Trump PAC, with access to the White House. That makes it highly likely he has plenty of material of interest to the prosecutors about Trump himself. Otherwise the terms of Gates’s deal with the counsel wouldn’t have been so lenient.
When Manafort joined the Trump campaign as manager of convention activities in March of 2016 (he was named full campaign chairman in May), Trump either was impressed with a man apparently wealthy enough to offer to work for no pay (though as it happened Manafort was at the time deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch) or, just possibly, had been encouraged, directly or indirectly, by Russians or their American contacts to take him aboard. What the indictments make clear is that once Manafort was in charge of the campaign various attempts were made by Russian figures to infiltrate it. This could of course be coincidental. But at the least one must ask why Manafort, who was beyond broke, offered to manage the campaign of a then-unlikely Republican presidential candidate, one who’d been spurned by almost all of the Republican establishment.
Manafort had been a business partner of Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, but Stone isn’t exactly a member of the Republican establishment. At the time Manafort joined the Trump campaign I perhaps naively thought that it was because of his relationship with Stone. But it’s the volunteer aspect of it that I can’t get past now. Of course numerous people help out presidential campaigns in the hope of having useful access to the next administration, but Trump wasn’t looking like a future president at the time that Manafort signed up. So, what made Manafort think that Trump had a chance to win the nomination, much less the presidency? Did he perhaps have information that the public didn’t know about?
This is one of the major questions yet to be answered. Is one clue Manafort’s apparent participation in a change in the Republican Party platform that made it more favorable to Moscow vis-a-vis Ukraine? And is another Manafort’s offer to brief his previous Russian benefactor, Oleg Deripaska, to whom he was deeply in debt, on the doings of the Trump campaign?
If Trump is innocent of any involvement with Russia’s activities he certainly hasn’t acted like it. One could list numerous examples, but to take a few: his admission that he fired FBI Director James Comey because of “this Russia thing”; his order last summer that Mueller be fired (headed off by his counsel, Don McGahn); his various attempts to spring former national security advisor Michael Flynn from a serious investigation; his frequent and often non-germane insistence, “No collusion”; his virtually barring his aides from bringing up Russia in meetings; his peculiar defenses of Vladimir Putin, of which the most head-snapping was, “We kill people, too.”
If Trump is innocent of any involvement, direct or indirect, in Russia’s activities to affect our election, why has the White House taken such an interest in the testimony of various figures before the congressional investigating committees? Why the strong reluctance of his lawyers to allow him to testify to the special counsel? Why has the president declined to implement the sanctions on Russia passed by overwhelming margins by Congress, so large that Trump had to sign it since a veto would have been overridden? The whole thing defies reason if the president wasn’t, as candidate or president, involved in, cooperative with, or at least approving of activities that abetted Russian interference in our election.
Why, in fact, did he (with one momentary exception in January) deny that the Russian activities even occurred until Mueller’s indictment of numerous Russians on grounds that they had interfered? Even then, Trump’s acknowledgment of Russian involvement in the election was reluctant, and he pretended that the indictments showed that his campaign hadn’t been helped by the Russians.
Then there’s something else: Trump’s own income, then and now. It has been reported that the FBI is investigating whether Russia funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA. And as CNBC recounted in mid-February, not only is it widely known that large amounts of Russian money has gone into Trump properties, but, even more interesting, “Recent reports have shown that money continues to move into Trump-branded properties from obscured sources like anonymous LLCs and shell companies.” CNBC’s report went on to say, “One such report found that since Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016, the fraction of anonymous purchases of his properties through shell companies has ‘skyrocketed’ from 4 to 70 percent.”
CNBC pointed out: “The public can only guess at the source of these funds, whether they be foreign governments or wealthy domestic interests—and to what extent unknown sums pouring into other Trump businesses are being used to curry favor with the president.” Is it any wonder that Trump has refused to release his income taxes?
While I’m on the subject, the assurances by many, in and out of the government, that Russia’s efforts didn’t change the outcome in 2016 are based on air. There’s no knowing the answer to this: Even people who were influenced by the WikiLeaks disclosures, such as they were, or the many tweets and Facebook ads, wouldn’t be able to say what it was that made up their mind. The voter is bombarded with ads and news and robo-calls, and can be influenced by friends. The margins by which Trump won the final critical states of Michigan and Wisconsin were narrow enough to have been been caused by any manner of things. Anyway, if the Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election and sow chaos and distrust among the citizenry had no effect, why would they be continuing their efforts now, aimed at the November midterms?
That said, there may not turn out to be a “smoking gun”—a specific piece of evidence that makes it incontrovertibly clear that Trump collaborated with Moscow in its interference of the 2016 election. If this or the next Congress follows precedent and reads history correctly, that won’t matter. In the case of Richard Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee had already voted to impeach him on three Articles of Impeachment before a recording emerged of Nixon telling an aide to order Pentagon officials to call the FBI to urge it to call off their investigation of Watergate on the grounds that it was jeopardizing national security. This was proof—as if any more was needed—that Nixon had participated in obstructing justice, the basis for the first Article of Impeachment.
Furthermore, there’s a second precedent from 1974 in Article II, which said that a president could be held accountable for the acts of his subordinates, if there’s been a “pattern or practice” of a certain type of activity. This is why it didn’t matter whether Nixon knew in advance about the invasion of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building by hoodlums hired by the White House—he was still accountable for it. His aides knew what he wanted done.
Trump wouldn’t have had to do much to let his aides know that cooperation with Russia was OK. But he may not have been oblique in letting his aides know that such cooperation had his approval. This is what we don’t yet know and presumably what the special counsel is seeking to find out.
I initially thought that an impeachment proceeding against Trump was more likely than I do now. Depending on what Mueller finds and recommends, it may well be out of the question that this Congress, at least, would proceed with an impeachment. It’s virtually impossible that this Senate would come up with the needed two-thirds vote to ratify an impeachment by the House and remove Trump from office. I didn’t expect the congressional Republicans to be so fearful of him—or if not him, of his base. It’s not for nothing that Trump governs for the base.
In fact, depending on what’s found out, this could well be a scandal greater in proportion and import than Watergate. In Watergate the crimes and impeachable behavior (which aren’t the same thing) involved an attempted domestic coup by the Nixon White House to fix the outcome of a presidential election, whereas the Russia scandal involves an attempt by a foreign country to do the same. The mega-difference is that one involved a hostile foreign power. Some of the other alleged untoward acts by the people around Trump—and perhaps by Trump himself—had to do with pledging to help the Russians loosen the yoke of sanctions that Barack Obama’s White House placed on Russia as punishment for its meddling in the election. (So much for Trump’s claims that Obama didn’t do anything about Russian interference.)
Another similarity between the Russia scandal and Watergate is the atmosphere of fear in Washington. In the case of Nixon, the fear stemmed from the knowledge that he was using federal agencies (such as the IRS) to punish his real and perceived enemies, and that for no other apparent reason private citizens’ phones were being tapped; in the case of Trump, the fear is more about his possible use of distractions to deflect from Mueller’s investigation, even including outright use of military force. In fact, though it drew little attention, Nixon ordered two worldwide nuclear alerts during his Watergate tribulations. As is now well known, his secretary of defense told military officers not to carry out any orders that came to them directly from the White House. Trump is learning his way around the federal agencies, and might increasingly use them, as well as the military, for his own political purposes, in particular the Justice Department and the FBI. One example is Justice’s renewed interest in the Clinton Foundation.
The current special counsel is paid more attention than the prosecutors were during Watergate, and the workings of Capitol Hill less so. Therefore, we are guaranteed more surprises.
Elizabeth Drew is a contributing editor to The New Republic and author of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.
For the longest time, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Russia mess looked like a backyard drainage ditch. Into it flowed a regular stream of witnesses, evidence and press speculation. But when was it ever going to amount to anything real? When was Mueller going to rent a hydraulic excavator and dig for real glory? After accepting the guilty pleas of Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, and spraying Paul Manafort with a few dozen indictments, the Mueller ditch had grown big enough to serve as a family plot. But dedicated followers of the scandal made no effort to hide their disappointment. Is this what prosecutorial dither looks like?
Then, two weeks ago, Mueller’s modest ditch opened like a sinkhole as he filed an indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian entities for monkeying with the 2016 election. Last week, the maw yawned a little wider as Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates pleaded guilty to many of the charges also filed against Manafort and agreed to turn on him. The question today is no longer: When will the Mueller machine get going? Now, it’s: Who will escape Mueller’s big dig?
Standing at the hole’s unstable rim and looking into the chasm is son-in-law Jared Kushner. He had a very bad week, suffering a humiliating downgrade from a top-secret clearance to one lower than the White House chief calligrapher. But that bad news wasn’t the worst. Although still a free man with no charges filed against him, Kushner exudes legal liability, blithely mixing business interests with his role as an adviser to the president of the United States. Mueller will seize on Kushner’s conflicts of interest like signposts to guide his investigative voyage.
Conflict No. 1: Kushner’s family business accepted huge loans from two financial empires after he met with their executives in the White House. Were any laws or ethics boundaries violated? Conflict No. 2: In early 2017, he hit up Qatar’s minister of finance for a loan and then a month later, with no loan forthcoming, he backed a blockade of the country. If it’s a coincidence, it’s a rotten one. Conflict No. 3: Officials from four countries—UAE, China, Israel and Mexico—think of Kushner as a sucker. They’ve privately discussed using his financial weakness to manipulate him on matters of state. Conflict No. 4: What role did he play in his family’s promotion of the foreign visa investment program, which has attracted the interest of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York?
Will Kushner jump from the White House before Mueller pushes him into the sinkhole? Or will Kushner even get his chance to jump? White House staffers and the president are now thought to regard Kushner as a political liability, and the president has reportedly asked Chief of Staff John Kelly for help in elbowing both Jared and wife Ivanka Trump out of the White House.
Ivanka Trump might toss her husband a lifeline and plead with her daddy to keep them on. But she’s in a precarious position, too. FBI scrutiny of a Trump Organization deal in Vancouver could block her application for a full security clearance as a presidential adviser and lend Kelly the oomph he needs to give her the full Omarosa and escort her out of the White House. Nobody is saying—yet—that the sinkhole will claim Ivanka. They’re not saying that about her former employee, Hope Hicks, who functioned for three years as Trump’s press go-between and portal to the real world. Hicks placed her big toe over the sinkhole’s edge this week when she gave Capitol Hill testimony confessing to occasional white lies for her president. A communications director can’t very well admit to lying and keep her job, so she resigned. Having established herself as a sometime prevaricator, Mueller will not leave her be until he unmasks the untruths he finds relevant to his investigation. If she knows anything valuable—and how could she not, given that she appears to have played a role in drafting the inaccurate statement about Donald Trump Jr.’s notorious meeting with the Russians—Mueller will extract it from her.
The Mueller machinations pointed this week to a new criminal case against the Russians suspected to have hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and distributed the emails via Wikileaks. According to NBC News, Mueller has asked witnesses how much Trump knew about the stolen emails before their theft became common knowledge, and what he did, if anything, to spur their release. Both Trump associate Roger Stone and Trump’s eldest son Donald Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks. Stone appears to have foreshadowed the release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails with a tweet that said, “it would soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Several weeks later the stolen Podesta emails were released by WikiLeaks.
Mueller’s investigators, who still want their interview with Trump, also want to know more about his Russophilia and his crush-like adoration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He may have already placed his staff in peril, Politico tells us, by defying his lawyers’ orders not to talk to aides, including Hicks, about the Russia investigation. Current and former Trump staffers say he “often fails to observe boundaries about the Russia probe and [he] calls staffers into his office and raises the subject without warning.”
Trump knows more about working on the edge than any politician not currently in jail. As a part-time Floridian, he should know plenty about sinkholes, too. But has he studied their geology? If the water table drops, sandy soil in the porous limestone yields and houses can disappear overnight. In 1981, a sinkhole in Winter Park, Fla., choked down a car dealership, two streets, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a three-bedroom home. It’s common for new sinkholes to pop up next to existing ones and become their partner in annihilation. As Trump would say, “Yuge.”
Here in Manhattan, there’s always a moment during a skyscraper’s rise when the tarp-covered piles of rebar and concrete sprout and the form and profile of the budding building suddenly takes shape.
Before long, it seems, construction is complete.
The same sort of thing is happening this week to Donald Trump’s presidency. Only it’s all heading in the opposite direction.
Before long, destruction may be complete.
History will show this to be the week we glimpsed the potential end of Trump’s administration. The strands of Robert Mueller’s investigation finally could be seen clearly, and the direction of his investigation into Russia, collusion and criminality came into focus.
The pace of the investigation is picking up, and it’s been tough to keep up. A brief recap of what emerged in just a few days:
Rick Gates rolls over
Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager who was indicted last fall along with his ex-partner, former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to charges involving hiding payments from their Ukrainian client, Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin.
More tellingly, the government this week dropped numerous charges against Gates in exchange for his cooperation into “any and all matters” regarding the Russian probe.
That includes possibly testifying against his old boss Manafort. Gates’s plea, then, is way to pressure Manafort – whose alleged tax crimes come with a paper trail that will be hard to explain away, legal experts say – to cop his own plea and in turn testify about what he know about contacts between Trump and Russia.
Hope Hicks and the ‘white lies’
Hope Hicks, Trump’s loyal communications director, abruptly announced she was leaving the White House just a day after admitting to Congressional committee that she told “white lies” on behalf of Trump.
The president, who never apologises or acknowledges a falsehood, reportedly railed at Hicks for being “stupid” in her remarks.
Whatever her rationale for leaving, Hicks, 29, is universally seen as one of Trump’s closest confidantes who was enmeshed in various elements of the Mueller investigation
The Wikileaks connection
NBC News reported that Mueller’s team is investigating Trump aide Roger Stone over his communications with WikiLeaks regarding hacked Democratic National Committee emails.
Of particular interest, the report claimed, was whether Trump, via Stone, knew or engineered the sudden release of DNC chairman John Podesta’s emails on the same day as the infamous Access Hollywood videotape that revealed Trump to be a sexual predator.
Jared Kushner’s finances
And the New York Times reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, received more than $400 million in loans for his beleaguered real estate empire after multiple meetings with officials from a private equity firm and Citibank.
Those loans are the most glaring example so far of Kushner’s conflict-of-interest problems, and raise anew the specter of other creditors – like the Russians – holding Kushner’s financial future in their hands.
What else? Mueller is said to be looking into whether Trump’s attempts to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions last summer were an attempt to obstruct the Russia investigation.
The embattled Sessions, whom Trump calls Mr. Magoo, was insulted yet again this week by Trump over his handling of an intelligence investigation – giving Mueller perhaps even more reason to investigate.
What does it all mean? Just like a wily prosecutor in the movies, Mueller is building his case, working first on shady guys like Manafort and Stone with something to hide, and trade. He then works on breaking – or scaring – the inexperienced sycophants either too dim or callow to realize the deep water they are.
The flipping of Gates is the key. Remember, he and Manafort made millions working for Yanukovych, Putin’s Ukraine puppet. Manafort, thus fortified with Ukraine cash, then offered his services free of charge to the Trump campaign.
Once installed, Manafort was then instrumental in having the Republican platform – the party’s manifesto for the coming election – changed to remove the call to arm anti-Putin rebels.
It seems an insult to any thinking person’s intelligence that these events are coincidences. But I’m sure Mueller, with Gates’ help, will sort all that out.
Stone, a black ops specialist who’s been making mayhem since the Nixon White House, is a braggart whose recklessness could spell his doom. A report in the Atlantic magazine says he messaged directly with Assange, contradicting his sworn testimony to a congressional committee.
Hicks and Kushner are pieces to the same puzzle. Hicks admitted fibs and Kushner’s potentially criminal conflicts of interest could lead both the tell Mueller what they know about the Russia connection in exchange for kinder treatment going forward.
Both are in a position to know in detail who the Trump campaign was in contact with and what the President knew.
Self-preservation, promoting fear, lack of accountability – all staples of the Trump management playbook. Ironic, then, that Mueller seems to be preying on the same human foibles in his quest for the truth.
There have been few more surreal moments in the Russia investigation — indeed, in the entire Trump era — than the one we just witnessed.
The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey broke the news Monday afternoon that former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg was shunning special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's grand jury subpoena, and in the article Nunberg supplied a series of colorful comments. Then he took to MSNBC and CNN for some even more unplugged interviews.
Here's a brief recap of what Nunberg said and what it means, ranging from the serious to the bizarre:
He thinks Mueller has something on Trump
Nunberg said he was ignoring the subpoena in part because there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and that it would consume too much of his time. But weirdly, he also seemed to say he thinks Mueller has something else on President Trump.
When MSNBC's Katy Tur asked, “Do you think that they have something on the president?” Nunberg responded: “I think they may. I think that he may have done something during the election, but I don't know that for sure.”
In an interview airing later on CNN, Nunberg elaborated cryptically: “The way they asked about his business dealings, the way they asked if you had heard anything even while I was fired, it just made me think that they suspected something about him.”
Ultimately, Nunberg told CNN that Trump “may very well have done something during the election with the Russians.”
Nunberg said specifically that he believed former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page “was colluding with the Russians” but suggested Page might have been a lone wolf. Nunberg also said he believes that Mueller thinks that Roger Stone, his own political ally, colluded via contacts with WikiLeaks.
Nunberg seemed to admit he was speculating, but he has also been interviewed by Mueller's team already, and he worked on the Trump campaign until August 2015 and is close to Stone. That suggests he may not totally be freelancing.
He said/speculated that Trump was aware of the Trump Tower meeting beforehand
One of the big unanswered questions of the Russia investigation is whether the president had any knowledge of or involvement in that meeting Donald Trump Jr. set up at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veslnitskaya, who had promised compromising information about Hillary Clinton. The meeting seemed to be at the very least an attempt to solicit help from foreign sources.
Nunberg says he's convinced that Trump was.
“You know he knew about it,” Nunberg said. “He was talking about it a week before. ... I don't know why he went around trying to hide it.”
It's not clear whether Nunberg is referring to Trump's private or public comments. We knew Trump was involved on the back end of the Trump Tower meeting, having crafted Trump Jr.'s misleading statement when the whole thing blew up. But the White House has denied Trump knew about the meeting.
Interestingly, former top Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon has also suggested Trump had to know about the meeting. “The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these [people] up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero,” Bannon told Michael Wolff.
Russian scion Emin Agalarov offered Trump women in his hotel room in Moscow
A central figure in both the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal controversies is Keith Schiller, the longtime Trump bodyguard who allegedly facilitated Trump's liaisons with the women. Nunberg says Schiller told him that Emin Agalarov, the pop-star son of a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin, offered to send women in Trump's hotel room during the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.
Congressional investigators have asked Schiller about unverified claims in the Christopher Steele dossier that the Russians obtained compromising information about Trump during the 2013 trip.
Agalarov, you might recall, was involved in setting up that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.
Nunberg said Trump was “too smart” to have the women come up to his room. (As you'll see later, though, in the same interview he referred to Trump as “an idiot.")
Nunberg dared Mueller to arrest him
Regarding the idea that Mueller would hold him in contempt for refusing to cooperate, Nunberg told Dawsey: “Let him arrest me. Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday.”
Then he told Tur: “I think it would be funny if they arrested me.”
By the end of the Tur interview, Nunberg asked her what she thought would happen. “What do you think Mueller's going to do to me?” Tur, while specifying that she wasn't a lawyer, suggested he might be held in contempt. CNN's Jake Tapper would offer similar advice.
While it might seem as if Nunberg is trying to help Trump, he insists that's not the case. In fact, he told Dawsey that he “hates” Trump and later said that Trump is an “idiot.”
“Donald Trump won this election on his own,” Nunberg said. “He campaigned his a-- off. And there is nobody who hates him more than me.”
He later told CNN of Trump: “Granted, Donald Trump caused this, because he’s an idiot.” He cited Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and an Oval Office meeting Trump had with Russians.
The purely bizarre:
He referred to Bill Clinton's “illegitimate black child”
At one point, Nunberg stressed that he and the campaign weren't especially close toward the end and that it didn't take his advice. He even said that if he had been in charge, “we would have Bill Clinton's illegitimate black child there at the second debate.”
This refers to a specious rumor that dates back to the 1990s.
He threatened to rip up the subpoena on live TV
Dawsey reported that “Nunberg said he was planning to go on Bloomberg TV and tear up the subpoena.”
One might argue that the MSNBC and CNN interviews were the metaphorical equivalent of that. And even he seemed to recognize that, saying telling Tur, “By the way, I think my lawyer's going to dump me.”
(CNN) Former Trump campaign official Sam Nunberg thought it was a good idea to a) ignore an apparent subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller and b) go on CNN and talk all about it.
The legal soundness of that decision is, um, questionable. But from a news perspective it was absolute gold. In that vein, I scoured the transcripts of Nunberg's conversation with CNN's Gloria Borger and Jake Tapper for the best -- and, by that, I mean most absolutely bonkers -- nuggets. The shiniest ones are below.
1. "Do you think I would ever talk to that moron?"
And, we're off! This is Nunberg talking about Carter Page, another former Trump staffer. Page, it's worth noting, might be the only person who has handled the PR around the Mueller investigation worse than Nunberg.
2. "I'll send you the full subpoena."
I'm no lawyer -- sorry Mom! -- but this doesn't feel like the smartest move by Nunberg. Not only is he rejecting Mueller's subpoena but he's also offering to send it, in full, to a reporter?
3. "I've been warned not to go after [Mueller]. I've been warned that you're wrong, that he'll take you down."
You should have listened to your friend, Billy Zane.
4. " I suspect that they suspect something about [Trump]."
SIREN. A former campaign adviser to Trump says he believes Mueller thinks he has "something" on Trump in regard to the Russia investigation. And that's actually only the second worst quote on the subject Nunberg gave Monday afternoon! He told MSNBC's Katy Tur: "I think he may have done something during the election. But I don't know that for sure."
5. "[Trump] may very well have not done anything."
Well, I'm convinced! What a Trump advocate, this Nunberg!
6. "Irregardless of whether or not he had money coming to him during the election, OK, during the general, he won that election and he doesn't get credit for it."
Irregardless of your husband being shot, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
I am exaggerating, but not entirely. I mean, the whole question Mueller is investigating is how Russia sought to influence the 2016 election in Trump's favor and whether anyone in his campaign colluded with them to so it. It's not about whether Trump won or not.
7. "They think that Roger [Stone] colluded with Julian Assange. I can tell you Roger did not collude with Julian Assange."
"No collusion." -- Donald Trump
8. "I was fired, correct?"
Well, this is going swimmingly so far!
9. " I came up with the wall, I came up with the Muslim ban, I came up with everything to attack Jeb Bush, all that stuff."
"I invented the piano key necktie. I INVENTED IT." -- Jacobin Mugatu
10. "Now, Roger is more loyal to trump than me. I don't care."
[narrator's voice] He cares. A lot.
11. "I just came around having to spend 80 hours over the weekend, I started this, Gloria, on Saturday."
The weekend lasted 72 hours.
12. "Screw that! Why do I have to go? Why? For what?"
Me, every me my wife tells me I haven't had a physical in 15 years and need to go to the doctor.
13. "I'm not a Donald Trump fan, as I told you before, okay? He treated me like crap."
REMINDER: This is a guy who is ostensibly on Trump's side in all this.
14. "They ask me to go to the grand jury after I sat there for close to five and a half hours, Gloria, I'm not going back in."
I think this is my favorite part of Nunberg's defense for refusing the Mueller subpoena: It takes too long. What Nunberg is saying, essentially, is: This whole grand jury thing is, like, a total time suck. I'm not doing it.
15. "I was told that if you had asked [Trump], he would lie and tell you that Putin was there."
This is Nunberg describing what he knew about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia. It's going to get lost amid some of his more bananas quotes, but, holy cow, this is a good one.
16. "I was told that that idiot had offered to send women up to Trump's room but Trump didn't want it. He's too smart for that."
First of all: Amazing!
Second: What Nunberg is referring to is the offer by an associate of Russian pop star Emin Alagarov to send prostitutes up to Trump's room during the Miss Universe pageant. Former Trump body man Keith Schiller testified about this episode last year.
17. "Trump is too smart to have women come up to his room."
This is fine.
18. "The idea that we were the Manchurian candidate."
Sam Nunberg is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.
19. "Trump may have very well done something during the election with the Russians."
I mean. I mean. I MEAN.
To summarize Nunberg so far in this interview:
Trump is the worst
He won fair and square
There was no collusion
Trump may have done something with the Russians during the election
20. "Am I the first person you ever heard to flat-out say I'm not going in?"
If we're being honest: Yes.
21. "You had Mueller indict Russians for what? He indicted Russians for what?"
Oooh ooh. Call on me! I know this one. "For executing a widespread and complex attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Donald Trump's candidacy and hurt Hillary Clinton's."
What do I win?
22. "Let me take this for two seconds, OK?"
This is the BEST. Nunberg, on cable TV to announce he is ignoring a federal subpoena, tries to take a call on the other line. Epic.
23. "He thinks Trump is the Manchurian candidate, and I will tell you I disagree with that."
"BREAKING: Former Trump aide says President is not the 'Manchurian candidate'"
24. "I despise Corey [Lewandowski]. Why would I communicate with Corey? Hope Hicks? Who was having an affair with Corey?"
Aaaaand, Nunberg is off the Lewandowski Christmas list!
25. "I am not a fan of Donald Trump."
Yes, you made that abundantly clear.
26. "All we were doing was trying to get Corey fired."
An amazing explanation by Nunberg for why he and Stone didn't collude with the Russians: They were too busy trying to get Trump's campaign manager fired! They didn't have the time! Even if they wanted to!
27. "Granted, Donald Trump caused this because he's an idiot."
So, according to Nunberg, Trump is: a) an "idiot" b) likely under investigation by Mueller for interactions with Russia c) totally innocent of any charges of collusion.
28. "I'm going to be the first one in history to flat out say, I'm not going."
Nunberg is very interested in making history here. You might even say he has an inflated sense of his place in history. I mean, someone might say that.
29. "I think Mueller has enough on Trump."
Nunberg logic: I don't need to testify before a grand jury because Mueller is already good on Trump. So, OK.
30. "I'm not cooperating. Arrest me."
[Bob Mueller thought bubble]: "I might"
31. "I'm not a fan of Donald Trump."
As a careful observer of the human condition, I had surmised this -- even without Nunberg telling me.
32. "And they know something on him and Jake I don't know what it is."
So, Mueller has "something" on Trump. Don't know what it is. But, it's something.
33. "I think she's terrible, by the way. I mean how do you have -- it's the funniest thing to me that Trump likes her."
Nunberg is also not a fan of Sarah Sanders! Who does he like? Also: Trump liking Sanders is the "funniest thing" to Nunberg.
34. "Do you know why Trump was so stupid to fire [James] Comey?"
Is this a rhetorical question? Also, I am starting to get the sense Nunberg doesn't like Trump...
35. "Who in the hell advised him to allow those Russians in the Oval Office?"
Nunberg is referencing a May picture in which Trump is shown shaking hands and smiling with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Also, I have been wondering the same thing about that meeting since it happened.
36. "Robert Mueller is a professional person. Robert Mueller is an honorable man."
We found someone Nunberg likes!
37. "Do you think I would communicate with Carter Page? He's a scumbag."
Um, so, no, I guess?
38. "I believe Carter Page was colluding with the Russians."
In some ways -- a lot of ways -- Sam Nunberg and Carter Page are made for each other. Like Batman and Robin. Or that weird movie where Superman and Batman fought.
39. "I think that Carter Page is a weird dude."
40. "Do you think should I cooperate?"
Without question my favorite part of the Tapper-Nunberg interview. As Jake is trying to wrap things up, Nunberg looks for some validation for his decision. Which Jake, um, does not give; "If it were me, I would," he responded.
41. "Jake, I'm definitely the first person to ever do this, right?"
The insecurity. It stings.
42. "I'm definitely the first person to do this."
This is, without question, the first time anyone has annotated two interviews by the same guy in a single day. I think. Right? Eh, forget it. I am a history maker. You know it. I know it. The American people know it.
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Upcoming new book from James Comey
WASHINGTON — An adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to current and former aides to President Trump is cooperating with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and gave testimony last week to a grand jury, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Mueller appears to be examining the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump’s political activities and has asked witnesses about the possibility that the adviser, George Nader, funneled money from the Emirates to the president’s political efforts. It is illegal for foreign entities to contribute to campaigns or for Americans to knowingly accept foreign money for political races.
Mr. Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the effective ruler of the Emirates, also attended a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles that Mr. Mueller’s investigators have examined. The meeting, convened by the crown prince, brought together a Russian investor close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump’s team during the presidential transition, according to three people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Nader’s cooperation in the special counsel’s investigation could prompt new legal risks for the Trump administration, and Mr. Nader’s presence at the Seychelles meeting appears to connect him to the primary focus of Mr. Mueller’s investigation: examining Russian interference during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mr. Nader represented the crown prince in the three-way conversation in the Seychelles, at a hotel overlooking in the Indian Ocean, in the days before Mr. Trump took office. At the meeting, Emirati officials believed Mr. Prince was speaking for the Trump transition team, and a Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, represented Mr. Putin, according to several people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Nader, who grew close later to several advisers in the Trump White House, had once worked as a consultant to Blackwater, a private security firm now known as Academi. Mr. Nader introduced his former employer to the Russian.
The significance of the meeting in the Seychelles has been a puzzle to American officials ever since intelligence agencies first picked up on it in the final days of the Obama administration, and the purpose of the discussion is in dispute. During congressional testimony in November, Mr. Prince denied representing the Trump transition team during the meeting and dismissed his encounter with Mr. Dmitriev as nothing more than a friendly conversation over a drink.
A lawyer for Mr. Nader did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Dmitriev has repeatedly declined to comment about the Seychelles meeting, as has Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador in Washington.
Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian fund manager, represented President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during a meeting with Mr. Nader and Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and an informal adviser to President Trump’s transition team. Credit Mikhail Kireev/Getty Images
Mr. Dmitriev, a former Goldman Sachs banker with an M.B.A. from Harvard, was tapped by Mr. Putin in 2011 to manage an unusual state-run investment fund. Where other such funds seek to earn returns on sovereign wealth, Mr. Dmitriev’s Russian Direct Investment Fund seeks outside investments, often from foreign governments, for unglamorous infrastructure projects inside of Russia.
The Obama administration imposed sanctions on the fund as part of a raft of economic penalties after the Russian government sent military forces into Ukraine in 2014.
The United Arab Emirates, which Washington considers one of its closest Arab allies, has invested heavily in Mr. Dmitriev’s fund as part of an effort to build close relations to Russia as well. After Crown Prince Mohammed met with Mr. Putin in 2013 in Moscow on a state visit, two investment arms of the government in Abu Dhabi committed to invest $6 billion in the Russian Direct Investment Fund, eventually paying to build projects like roads, an airport and cancer treatment centers in Russia.
Mr. Dmitriev became a frequent visitor to Abu Dhabi, and Emirati officials came to see him as a key conduit to the Russian government. In a 2015 email, the Emirati ambassador to Moscow at the time described Mr. Dmitriev as a “messenger” to get information directly to Mr. Putin. The email was among a large number hacked from the account of the ambassador to Washington and published online. The now former ambassador to Moscow, Omar Saif Ghobash, did not respond to an email about the leak.
Mr. Nader was first served with search warrants and a grand jury subpoena on Jan. 17, shortly after landing at Washington Dulles International Airport, according to two people familiar with the episode. He had intended to travel on to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida estate, to celebrate the president’s first year in office, but the F.B.I. had other plans, questioning him for more than two hours and seizing his electronics.
Since then, Mr. Nader has been questioned numerous times about meetings in New York during the transition, the Seychelles meeting and meetings in the White House with two of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, who has since left the administration.
The meeting in the Seychelles also took place against the backdrop of a larger pattern of secretive contacts between the Trump team and both the Russians and the Emiratis. In the weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Crown Prince Mohammed aroused the suspicions of American national security officials when they learned that he had breached protocol by visiting Trump Tower in Manhattan without notifying the Obama administration of his visit to the United States.
Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a senior transition adviser, met at Trump Tower with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington at the time, and discussed setting up a back channel to communicate with Moscow during the transition — circumventing American diplomatic channels normally used during a presidential transition. Mr. Kushner met a few days later with a Russian banker close to Putin, Sergey N. Gorkov — whose bank was also under sanctions — in what Mr. Kushner has said was an attempt to establish a direct line of communication to Mr. Putin during the transition.
Mr. Prince denied to congressional investigators that he was representing the Trump transition team at a meeting in the Seychelles. Credit Zach Gibson for The New York Times
Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, was fired for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
Public accounts of the Seychelles meeting have varied sharply. Questioned about it during testimony in November before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Prince dismissed his encounter with Mr. Dmitriev as little more than a chance run-in.
He was in the Seychelles for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed and Emirati officials, Mr. Prince said, and after the meeting, the officials suggested he meet Mr. Dmitriev at the bar of the Four Seasons hotel.
“We chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations” with the United States, Mr. Prince said about the meeting, which he said lasted about 30 minutes.
“I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism,” he told lawmakers.
Shortly after the Seychelles meeting, Mr. Dmitriev met with Anthony Scaramucci, then an informal Trump adviser, at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In an interview afterward with TASS, a Russian news agency, Mr. Scaramucci criticized the Obama administration’s economic sanctions on Russia as ineffective and suggested that the Trump administration and Russia could find common ground on numerous issues.
“We have to make the world safer, we have to eliminate from the world the radical Islamic terrorism, and we have to figure out the ways to grow the wages for working class-families,” said Mr. Scaramucci, who later had a brief but calamitous stint as White House communications director. “Whether in Russia or in the U.S., I think there are a lot of common objectives.”
For his part, Mr. Dmitriev seemed particularly optimistic at the dawn of the Trump era. In an interview with The New York Times two days after the 2016 election, he said he was excited that Mr. Trump’s dramatic victory would “reshape the U.S.-Russia relationship.”
“When Russia is treated with respect,” he said, “we can move forward.”