The appointment of Robert Mueller as the Department of Justice special counsel was supposed to shine a light on Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
Instead, it shed light on the finances of Paul Manafort and Robert Gates, two former top dogs in President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Manafort and Gates were charged with 12 counts of financial wrongdoing and failure to register as foreign lobbyists.
And Mueller snagged a former campaign volunteer, George Papadopoulos, on a charge of lying to the FBI about otherwise legal behavior. Papadopoulos allegedly sought information on Democrat Hillary Clinton from a Russian professor, but he misled the FBI about it earlier this year.
On rooting out actual Russian criminals, Mueller's investigation so far looks very weak. Mueller could conceivably charge Russian conspirators with espionage or other crimes, even if they are not on American soil.
Instead, Mueller seems to be finding scapegoats in the U.S., said Roger Stone, a friend of Trump and a longtime GOP consultant. Stone called Papadopoulos "shady" in a text to LifeZette.
And as far as so-called collusion with actual Russians on interference in the 2016 election, the pickings so far look slim.
Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. prosecutor under President Ronald Reagan, said there is no indication of any major crime involving Russia in Monday's indictments, although he called allegations of Manafort and Gates' financial crimes substantial.
"I see no bigger picture," diGenova said Tuesday in a call with LifeZette. "I'm at a loss as to where this goes, except down the rabbit hole."
What is likely, pundits agreed, is that Papadopoulos wore a wire for Mueller from the time of his secret arrest in late July to October 5, when he entered a guilty plea on a charge of lying to the FBI. It's probable that Papadopoulos contacted people from the Trump campaign, trying to get them to contradict things they may already have told the FBI.
It's a fishing expedition for a lying charge, which is what happened to Republican Lewis "Scooter" Libby in 2003.
Libby was chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney when liberal journalist David Corn threw a fit about a column written by conservative journalist Bob Novak. The column exposed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, and that is against the law.
President George W. Bush appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel, and Fitzgerald proceeded to question witnesses even though he already knew the identity of the leaker. Libby allegedly misled the Justice Department, and he was convicted in 2007.
Cheney pushed for a pardon, but Bush only commuted his sentence. An attorney, Libby was allowed to rejoin the American Bar Association in 2016.
Stone said he thinks the Russian investigation now resembles the Fitzgerald prosecution of the past decade, but diGenova doesn't. DiGenova expressed astonishment that Papadopoulos likely spoke to the FBI without attorneys.
Still, Trump's defenders wonder when actual Russians will pop up in an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Jeffrey Lord, one of the president's top defenders and a contributor to The American Spectator, said there isn't much left to connect Trump with the Russian government.
"I don't think they can find anything because there isn't anything," said Lord, in an email to LifeZette. "Last night, I gave a speech at the Perry County, Pennsylvania, fall dinner, a neighboring rural county that gave 71 percent of its vote to Trump. I read a satirical thank-you note to them from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The audience roared because they know full well Russia had zero to do with that 71 percent. It was their enthusiasm for Trump and hard work that delivered. And what we are seeing in these indictments is effectively the legal admission of this."
Meanwhile, the media made no departure from the narrative that the Mueller investigation was all about Trump Republicans. And CNN took Fox News to task for not devoting enough time to the indictments and even expressed befuddlement as to why Fox News would devote time on Monday to anything else.
"The revelations jolted through the news media, and Fox News did cover it as its top story," CNN reporter Oliver Darcy admitted. "But in contrast with CNN and MSNBC, which aired nonstop rolling coverage throughout the day, Fox News found plenty of time to cover other topics, like the NFL protests, North Korea, and tax reform."
Last Modified: November 1, 2017, 6:24 am