Monday, November 20, 2017

TRUMP Administration Facing "Gambino-style rollup"? (Vanity Fair)

Happy Thanksgiving!
Lots to be thankful for -- read this!
-- Ed

The White House is projecting optimism that the investigation will soon conclude, but experts think it’s “just getting started.”

NOVEMBER 20, 2017 11:38 AM

Trump leaves a meeting with House Republicans on November 16th.
By Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images.
By Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images.
With Donald Trump predisposed to self-sabotage in what may ultimately become an obstruction of justice case, the president’s lawyers have assured him that he has nothing to fear from Robert Mueller. It’s a tricky balancing act, given Trump’s past history of criticism for the special counsel. The president’s natural impulse for obstructive, combative behavior is also, in this case, a potential legal risk. So while F.B.I. investigators appear to have zeroed in on critical events that transpired before and after the real-estate mogul’s unexpected victory last fall, including Jeff Sessions’s recusal and the ouster of James Comey, Trump’s lawyers are taking pains to project calm, telling the president that he has nothing to fear and that the investigation, which some posit is just getting started, will wind down soon.

“The people who have been interviewed generally feel they were treated fairly by the special counsel, and adequately prepared to assist them in understanding the relevant material,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who has urged the president to cooperate with Mueller and his team, told The Washington Post. “They came back feeling relieved that it was over, but nobody I know of was shaken or scared.” Cobb added that the idea that Mueller was looking beyond the election into Trump’s personal finances and business dealings—something Trump has said would be “out of bounds”—was incorrect.

One of the goals of this effort, it appears, is to prevent Trump from flying into a rage and firing Mueller, as several of his allies have suggested he do if it appears Mueller is expanding the scope of his investigation into the president’s finances. “I’ve done my best, without overstepping, to share my view that the perception of the inquiry—that it involved a decade or more of financial transactions and other alleged issues that were mistakenly reported—just wasn’t true, and that the issues were narrower and wholly consistent with the mandate provided by the Justice Department to the Office of the Special Counsel,” he said, adding that he believes the investigation will be wrapped up by the end of the year, or shortly thereafter. As for further revelations regarding foreign contacts that are reportedly on the horizon, Cobb said he does not expect them to “unduly extend the inquiry.”

One White House official expressed similar confidence to Axios, telling Mike Allen, “The only people focused on or consumed by this are the press. The White House staff are working to carry out the president's agenda on behalf of the American people.” And according to the Post, “many aides describe an atmosphere of relative calm against the backdrop of the investigation, with staffers mindful but not necessarily worried about the probe.” Some have turned to gallows humor: “When the staff gather in the morning at the White House now, they jokingly say: ‘Good morning. Are you wired?’ ” one source close to the administration told the Post.

But that optimism is not universal. And while Trump’s lawyers and spokespeople had previously said they believe the investigation will be over by Thanksgiving, that timeframe was probably always fantastical. Allen notes, “I’m told that Mueller's team is rooting around inside Trumpworld more deeply than is publicly known. Outside West Wing advisers tell me that may create a showdown.” One G.O.P. operative in close contact with the Trump White House characterized Mueller’s approach as “working through the staff like Pac-Man” and dismissed the idea that Trumpworld is undaunted. “Of course they are worried,” the Republican said. “Anybody that ever had the words ‘Russia’ come out of their lips or in an e-mail, they’re going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It’s going to be a long winter.”

One source told the Post that Mueller is executing a “a classic Gambino-style roll-up” that “will reach everyone in this administration.” It is telling that the first indictment Mueller secured was against the lower-level Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this summer to lying to the F.B.I. The documents in his case were only unsealed in early October, months after it appears he turned state’s witness. In the weeks since issuing indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy and longtime business associate Rick Gates, Mueller has proceeded at an aggressive clip, interviewing a growing pool of individuals previously counted among the president’s inner circle, including former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and erstwhile Press Secretary Sean Spicer. The former F.B.I. director plans to sit down with Trump’s communications director and close confidant Hope Hicks and White House general counsel Donald McGahn in the coming weeks, and on Monday, citing a source familiar with the matter, ABC News reported that Mueller recently issued a subpoena directing the Justice Department to produce a wide array of documents related to attorney general Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe, as well as Comey’s firing, for which he and Rosenstein both issued controversial recommendations.

Former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, too, remains in Mueller’s crosshairs; both his lobbying work for the Turkish government—for which he belatedly registered as a foreign agent—and his Russian contacts are reportedly of interest to the special counsel. Earlier this month—citing multiple sources—NBC News reported that Mueller’s team has enough evidence to indict Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr.

With the Post reporting that at least nine Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition, legal experts have disputed Cobb’s estimation that Mueller’s investigation is mere months away from its conclusion. “I don’t think there’s any reason to believe this is almost over,” Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at George Washington University, told the Post. “Based not just on what we’ve seen but also what we know about white-collar investigations generally, this seems to me like it is just getting started.”

Abigail Tracy is a staff news writer for the Hive covering Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington.

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