Robert Mueller is a man of few words, a prosecutor who lets his results speak for themselves.
And this week and last, those results have vividly underscored the value of the Russia investigation, while dramatically increasing the risk should President Donald Trump act on his desire to shut it down.
Tuesday’s sentencing recommendation for former national security adviser Michael Flynn is a case of addition by subtraction. Long sections are blacked out, or redacted. But it reveals that Flynn is helping with several investigations — and that his cooperation is extensive and important enough that Mueller is recommending a light sentence.
Meanwhile, thanks to the plea deal that former Trump fixer Michael Cohen agreed to last week, we have important information that helps explain Trump’s reluctance to criticize marauding Russian president Vladimir Putin. Further, if Cohen is telling the truth, that means Trump has repeatedly deceived the American people on the subject of Russia.
According to Cohen, Trump was pursuing a real-estate deal in Moscow at least into June of 2016. That, despite Trump’s declaration, in July 2016, that “I have nothing to do with Russia, for anything.” And his claim, in January 2017, that “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.” Or his assertion, at a February 2017 news conference, that “I have nothing to do with Russia . . . . To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” As Bill Clinton might put it, that depends on what meaning “have” has.
Since all this has been revealed, Trump’s response has been, in essence: So what? As he put it in a series of tweets that admitted what Cohen had said, even while shrugging it off: “I decide to run for President & continue to run my business . . . Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”
Or, as he maintained to reporters last week: “There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Now, Trump is probably right that there wasn’t a legal problem in his doing so. What got Cohen in trouble, after all, was lying to Congress.
Trump has deceived only the nation — at least from what we know so far.
Still, several truths remain here.
First, Trump was seeking a tower deal in the capital of one of our leading geopolitical rivals not just while running for president, but even after he had emerged as the GOP’s de facto nominee. Trump and Cohen obviously knew that was hugely problematic; otherwise, they wouldn’t have tried to cover that fact up, either by rewriting the timeline or denying it altogether.
After all, this reads like a man tempering his public statements about Russia for reasons that have to do with possible future profits for his own pocket. (Imagine the conservative reaction if Barack Obama had done something comparable.)
Third, there’s ample reason to suspect more is afoot here. Recall what Donald Trump Jr. said about the Trump family empire a decade ago: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.”
Finally, these revelations (once again) give the lie to Trump’s oft-repeated insistence that the Mueller probe is much ado about nothing. It has already resulted in a long list of charges and pleas, demonstrating what a group of scoundrels, scalawags, and scapegraces made up Trump’s inner circle. And now we have Cohen, Trump’s former right-hand man, admitting that he lied regarding the tower project Trump was pursuing in Moscow.
Week by week, Mueller is getting closer and closer to the truth. If Trump now moves to shut the investigation down, as he has previously ordered aides to do, every thinking person should realize it’s precisely for that reason.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.