What the H*** is Mueller Investigating? And Why?

This morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, in a story that doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of national attention, that Robert Mueller’s ever-widening investigation has ensnared Vin Weber, a former Minnesota Congressman and long-time Washington lobbyist:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury is investigating a prominent Democratic lobbyist and a former Minnesota GOP congressman for their involvement in an influence campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests tied to Paul Manafort, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

Mueller’s operation is leaking on a more or less daily basis. Isn’t that illegal? Aren’t grand jury proceedings supposed to be secret? Maybe the Attorney General should appoint a special counsel to look into possible crimes associated with leaks by Mueller’s staff.

With the emphasis on the Ukrainian lobbying efforts, Mueller’s criminal probe is moving beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and is aggressively pursuing people who worked as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department.

But wait! Mueller’s investigation isn’t supposed to “move beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.” The Order appointing Mueller empowers him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and…any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” It seems that the current focus of Mueller’s efforts is lobbying that was carried out on behalf of one of Ukraine’s political factions, or, more broadly, failure to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department by anyone, at any time. This is not what Mueller was appointed to do.

FBI agents working for Mueller are asking witnesses about meetings between Gates, Podesta and Weber to discuss the lobbying work in detail and any communication with representatives of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, according to two people familiar with the interviews who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

“There were questions about how much Podesta and Vin Weber were involved. There was a lot of interest there,” one of them said.

FBI agents also expressed interest in the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which produced a 2012 report used to justify the jailing of an opposition politician in Ukraine.

Skadden Arps is one of America’s most prominent law firms. What does any of this have to do with purported collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, years later?

Both people said that investigators on Mueller’s team have asked about what the lobbyists knew about the source of the funding and who was directing the work in 2012 — long before Manafort became Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016.

I repeat: what does any of this have to do with the ostensible purpose of Mueller’s investigation?

According to Manafort’s indictment, he and Gates “engaged in weekly and at times daily calls and emails with (company 1 and company 2) to provide them directions as to specific lobbying steps that should be taken and to receive reports back as to the results of such lobbying.” The two firms were the Podesta Group and Mercury.

In addition, Manafort’s and Gates’ 2017 disclosure forms “misrepresented the relationship among (the Targets), the Ukrainian government, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU), and two U.S. lobbying firms,” the government said.

This is interesting, more or less, but it is not what Mueller was directed to investigate.

Skadden’s involvement with Manafort stems from its production of a 2012 report downplaying the political motivations of the Ukrainian government in jailing an opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko.

The report, written by former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig, found that Tymoshenko’s trial was procedurally flawed but not marked by political persecution. The Ukrainian justice ministry officials who supposedly commissioned the report trumpeted it as proof that Tymoshenko was not a political prisoner.

And the 2012 report on “the political motivations of the Ukrainian government” relates to the Trump campaign’s alleged cooperation with Russian elements in the 2016 election…how?

The special counsel statute is a very poor idea, and Mueller’s implementation of it illustrates why. The job of a special counsel (or special prosecutor, as he was formerly called) is to hang scalps on the wall. Whose scalps, or why they were taken, is incidental at best. President Trump would be fully justified in firing Robert Mueller, but a better idea, in my opinion, would be to appoint several more special counsels to look into various Democratic misdeeds. That would bring this whole farce to a screeching halt.

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