It has been 300 days since former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed independent counsel to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation.
Over that time, there have been four constants:
- A never-ending slew of leaks, counter-leaks, and counter-leaks to the counter-leaks that have made the story almost impossible to follow for the average American who just wants to get to the truth.
- Fake news from an uninformed/partisan media. Remember CNN firing three employees for running with some fake news? How about ABC's fake news bombshell that cost investors millions by prompting a stock market plunge?
- From just days after Mueller was appointed until now, exactly zero evidence has been presented that Trump knowingly and/or directly colluded with the Russians to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.
- Mueller has already logged numerous indictments, including two major players in Trump's former national campaign manager and national security adviser.
So where is all this headed?
I believe Mueller is operating under the theory that because of his global business dealings and entanglements, Trump is more vulnerable than any president in recent history to leverage/blackmail/influence-peddling from foreign/hostile entities. However, a working theory is one thing. What you can prove in a court of law — or the court of public opinion in such a polarized environment, for that matter — is another.
The narrative of the #Resist crowd, that Trump only beat unlikable corruptocrat Hillary Clinton because a Russian dictator personally altered the outcome, has not been realized. Yet neither can the #MAGA crowd claim exoneration when it's clear, at the very least, that some shady people worked their way into the president’s orbit.
Which brings us to what I believe will be the question that ultimately determines the outcome of this story.
If we're not going to uncover evidence of direct collusion on the part of the president, he is still going to have to answer the following question to Mueller's satisfaction: How did this menagerie of ne'er-do-wells (Manafort, Flynn, Rick Gates, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, etc.) get access to either the campaign or the president himself? Who or what was their entry point?
Mueller has broad authority to examine "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation," including questions like these.
Trump, prior to becoming president, was still a global phenomenon as a tycoon and celebrity. How many people would love to have a chance to work their way into his sphere of influence? Men such as Trump know this, which is why there are typically layers of infrastructure between them and opportunists to avoid being taken advantage of. Now, throw in the added exposure and vulnerability that goes with running for president, and it's not so easy to just to stroll into Trump Tower off the street and ask, "Is the Donald available?"
For example, a friend of mine went to support Trump's campaign during the Iowa Caucus, and he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to be a volunteer.
With that kind of paranoia/protection, Trump is going to have come up with an explanation for how these questionable elements gained access — specifically how Manafort, whose prior efforts in the Ukraine The New York Times mentioned the day he was hired, had intimate and direct access to Trump for months.
One possible explanation, particularly for a political novice like Trump, is that you're drinking from a fire hose in the midst of a contested campaign. And when you're challenging the party leadership for power, the system doesn't exactly give you glowing referrals to aid your effort. This leaves you to fill positions with those willing to take them, such as Manafort, leaving you wide open to infiltration on the fly.
However, Trump is loath to admit any weakness, even when it would benefit him, which is the reason why we have Mueller in the first place. Trump wasn't willing to follow the explanation for the firing of James Comey his staff had contrived and called Lester Holt of NBC News over for an interview so he could claim credit instead. Like Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, Trump wanted the world to know he ordered the code red. Mueller was appointed only five days later.
If Trump won't be willing to admit weakness, and there's no evidence of collusion, he's going to need an alternative explanation — someone to offer up to Mueller as the one responsible for allowing these elements into his circle. Especially if Mueller is suspicious that the president's own family is that link.
Mainstream media, in its partisan hysteria, has cried wolf where this investigation is concerned countless times. But that doesn't mean this still couldn't be precarious for the president, and I believe his answer to this question will decide his liability.