OPINION: It's Mueller Time

Manolo Quezon - The Explainer

Posted at Dec 05 2017 12:03 AM

In the United States, pundits and politicians and the public are all wondering if both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence could end up impeached. It also has to do with Trump's former National Security Adviser, retired Army General Mike Flynn.

The case as it's emerging, is this. During the period of transition between Donald Trump being elected in November 2016 and his taking office in January 2017, Mike Flynn had a meeting with the Russian ambassador, upon the direction of Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Trump.

Nicholas Schmidle, writing on general Flynn in Vanity Fair, pointed out Flynn met the Russian ambassador on the same day the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the United States, in retaliation for Russian support for Trump in the recent elections. Fast forward to 2017, when, three weeks after he was appointed National Security Adviser to Trump, the Washington Post published a story about Flynn's meeting. And here is the whole case: Flynn had denied that meeting took place. He denied it himself, and then he denied it to Vice President Pence, who publicly backed Flynn.  

When it turned out Flynn hadn't told the truth, he had to go. Two other things began to keep cropping up. The first was Flynn's private sector work after he retired from the military in 2014. He took on speaking engagements, set up a consultancy, visited Russia, consulted for Turkey. 

All of these things led the Obama White House to warn President-elect Trump not to hire Flynn as he might be a security risk. He was hired anyway.

Which brings us to the second thing. How much of what Flynn did, was on the basis of being told to do it? And When Flynn started getting into hot water, did Donald Trump and other officials, try to get him off the hook?

In a series of Twitter threads on December 1 and December 3, Seth Abramson, lawyer and professor of journalism and law, looked into the announcement that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Abramson says that this is significant news because Flynn could be charged with other offenses too, such as failing to register as an agent of the Turkish government, and possibly even being involved in a scheme to kidnap someone.  

But the main problem is that it's getting increasingly clear that Flynn did not act alone to meet the Russian ambassador. He was told to do so. And that both Trump and Pence it turns out, knew what Flynn set out to do in that December meeting. And that Trump, when the FBI director James Comey was proceeding to investigate Flynn, called Comey to a meeting to try to get him to drop his investigation. When Comey didn't want to play ball, Trump fired Comey as director of the FBI.

This is what led another former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, to be appointed to head an investigation into the Russian connections of the Trump campaign. Over the past few months, it's emerged that Mueller is following a tried-and-tested strategy of investigation. Identify crucial individuals whose testimony can pin down higher-ups, and offer those individuals deals which include less severe punishment in exchange for testimony. 

This is how a foreign policy adviser of Trump, George Papadopolous, was pinned down, to put the squeeze on a senior campaign adviser, Paul Manafort. 

The single charge against Flynn is a means to pin down someone higher up, and since Flynn was pretty high in the pecking order as National Security Adviser, observers like Abramson think this means Mueller is zeroing in on at least Jared Kushner, but more likely, both Donald Trump and Mike Pence. 

Back in the 1970s, the Watergate investigation zeroed in on the question to be answered: What did the President know, and when did he know it? The fall of Richard Nixon occurred not because the Watergate break-in happened, but because Nixon tried to obstruct justice to prevent the investigation from succeeding. 

At one point, he tried to fire the Attorney-General and other prosecutors. As a cartoon from TIME Magazine in 1973 shows, it just tightened the noose around everyone including Nixon himself. As the investigation went up the chain, members of Nixon's inner circle started to crack, and their testimony led to the famous fight over Nixon's White House tapes, which proved he had tried to obstruct justice. Seth Abramson thinks the point of no return has been reached in Mueller's investigation. 

For the rest of us watching this unfold, two things stand out. The first is how Mueller's probe has been done with a maximum of results, and a minimum of loose talk. The second is, how the process is proving, thus far, unstoppable.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.