The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller appears to finally be coming to an end.
“Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation,” Bloomberg reported on Oct. 17, citing two U.S. officials, and adding that “[Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible.”
As a further indication of an investigative wind-down, four of Mueller’s prosecutors have left the special counsel’s office in recent months.
There’s been a lot of noise surrounding the Mueller investigation, and many details remain unknown. But worth considering are two items from the Feb. 16 indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three companies:
“Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
“Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
The accused individuals began their operations in 2014, long before President Donald Trump had even announced his candidacy. Some of these individuals communicated with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”
There is no collusion if members of the Trump campaign didn’t know they had communicated with Russian actors. The February 2018 indictment provided an exoneration of the Trump campaign in the case.
Rosenstein stated as much during a press conference:
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Consider the impact Rosenstein’s statement has on the entirety of the Steele dossier. The lack of U.S. collusion with Russia undermines much of the dossier’s allegations. Take that thought one step further and consider the impact on the fact that the dossier was instrumental in the FBI obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
If the allegations within the dossier, which was revealed to have been paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, are determined to be faulty, so must many of the allegations made within the Page FISA application. Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe has testified before the House Intelligence Committee that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without the Steele dossier information.”
That wasn’t the only instance where such a determination would be made.
On July 13, Mueller announced an indictment against 12 Russian officers related to hacking, including the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Once again, no conspiracy or collusion on the part of the Trump campaign was found, as stated again by Rosenstein:
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There is no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result. I briefed President Trump about these allegations earlier this week. The President is fully aware of the Department’s actions today.”
These Russian indictments, which represent just one side of the Mueller investigation, may appear somewhat foolish, as most of these cases will never go to court. But they are nevertheless important in what they didn’t find—any evidence of collusion on the part of the Trump campaign.
In a July 15 interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) pointed out a startling fact: The Mueller indictment in July contains the same information as the March 22 House Intelligence Committee Russia report.
“Almost everything in the indictment, we knew about. On March 22, we released our findings that you have in front of you right there. All you had to do was get Page 4, and you only had to read Chapter 2, and you would have had nearly everything that’s in the indictment. … There’s more in this report than what’s in the indictment.”
“All that Mueller did was validate our report, indict some Russians, and leave out some very pertinent evidence that the American public should see. … We basically wrote the indictment for Mueller. The House Republicans, without the support of the Democrats, wrote the indictment for the Mueller special counsel [with] information that we have had for over a year.”
The evidence Nunes notes as being left out relates to the fact that the Mueller indictment ignored the fact that Republicans were also targeted by Russia.
In a third indictment, filed on Oct. 19, 2018, a Russian national was charged with attempting to interfere in the 2016 election. The case, which does raise some unusual issues over the use of social media, nevertheless “does not allege that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.”
While Nunes is correct in noting the July Mueller indictment left out the targeting of conservatives, the greater impact of the Mueller indictment is the validation of the House’s Russia report.
The Mueller investigation, intentionally or otherwise, has three times confirmed there was no collusion on the part of the Trump campaign, while also providing a legal determination that Nunes and his report on Russian interference were correct.
Concord Management, one of the named companies in the February 2018 indictment, is currently fighting the Mueller charges and has pleaded not guilty. The result of this effort may prove illuminating. In a June 12 motion for a protective order, the special counsel noted:
“Voluminous discovery will be involved in this case … the government estimates that it currently possesses documentary evidence related to the investigation that totals somewhere between 1.5 and 2 terabytes of data.”
“Sensitive-but-unclassified discovery, in this case, includes information describing the government’s investigative steps taken to identify foreign parties responsible for interfering in U.S. elections; the techniques used by foreign parties to mask their true identities while conducting operations online; the relationships of charged and uncharged parties to other uncharged foreign entities and governments.”
Based on what’s been detailed, one might think Nunes would find himself intrigued to see this case continue forward to full discovery. What’s important to keep in mind is the specific timing involved:
“From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government.”
A broad encompassing description of events with an equally broad time frame. Particularly intriguing is the almost off-hand line, “with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury.”
The discovery phase of this case, should we proceed to that point, may prove more interesting than many might expect.
Jeff Carlson is a CFA charterholder. He worked for 20 years as an analyst and portfolio manager in the high-yield bond market. He runs the website TheMarketsWork.com