Share this article

print logo

The Briefing: Don't let the Russia probe numb you

WASHINGTON – It can seem numbing, this day-by-day, drip-by-drip Novocaine of news about the details of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Don't let it numb you. It's too important.

Further proof came Wednesday, with two more stories that would have seemed like bombshells if they hadn't been overwhelmed by so much news about tariffs, White House departures and the porn star who claims she had an affair with the man who's now the president.

A headline like "Trump Spoke to Witnesses About Matters They Discussed With Special Counsel" can seem dull in comparison. But that New York Times story, plus a Washington Post scoop about an apparent attempt to build a back channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, provide more evidence that Mueller is conducting a broad, deep and significant investigation.

The Times story says that Trump asked then-chief of staff Reince Priebus if the prosecutors who had questioned him had been "nice." Worse yet, the article indicates that Trump tried to get White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II to deny what he had told Mueller's team – that the president had once asked him to fire Mueller.

So why does it matter that, according to the Times, President Trump talked to witnesses who had spoken with Mueller?

Because the president is already being investigated for possible obstruction of justice in the Russia probe, and talking to witnesses who are talking to the special counsel could be seen as witness tampering.

In other words, if the three sources who gave the Times its scoop are right, Trump might be making matters worse for himself without knowing it.

Then there's the matter of the Post story, which tells us:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.

In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Yes, that's all very complicated. But add it to the volume of what we already know about the Russia investigation.

• We already know that Russian trolls tried to manipulate American voters through social media.

• We already know that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., set up a Trump tower meeting with Russian figures who claimed to have dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

• We already know that Trump Jr. was speaking with Wikileaks while it was leaking hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

• We know that five people have already pleaded guilty to assorted charges in the Mueller probe, including the president's former national security adviser. And we know through history that people who plead guilty usually sing like canaries, just because they don't want to become jailbirds.

Now none of this is proof that Trump colluded with the Russians during the 2016 campaign. Trump has denied that repeatedly, and vociferously.

But when you add all those revelations to the two new ones that emerged on Wednesday, the Russia probe doesn't seem so numbing after all.

Instead, it seems like a classic Russian novel – long, complicated and hard to follow, but worth following.

Happening today

The president is tentatively set to formally unveil his steel and aluminum tariffs ... Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is scheduled to appear at an arraignment hearing ... Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testifies privately before the House Intelligence Committee ... The Democratic National Committee opens its winter meetings ... Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) unveil legislation "to help prevent individuals who are in crisis from accessing deadly weapons."

Good reads

USA Today tells us that New York isn't getting much love from its native son president ... Politico notes that Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York played a surprisingly big role in this week's Democratic primaries in Texas ... The Associated Press profiles Peter Navarro, President Trump's trade guru ... The New York Times reports that Congress is turning away from gun control and toward "school safety" ... And the Washington Post's Charles Lane looks at America's largely unnoticed oil boom.

There are no comments - be the first to comment