In separate stories on Thursday, news appeared about the relationship of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as it concerns Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, and to Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort. What both of those stories show is that while Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee may have purposely looked away after deciding that they “really weren’t focused” on collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller really is focused on exactly that topic.
What the most recent leaks out of the investigation reveal is that:
- The focus of the deal between Mueller and Rick Gates wasn’t about what Gates could provide on Paul Manafort, but what Gates could provide on the subject of collusion within the campaign.
- Mueller apparently felt that the case against Manafort was tight enough that he really didn’t need Gates help to put away Manafort—who is now facing a 32-count indictment on everything from money laundering to conspiracy to defraud.
- One of the first items to surface, the meetings between Sessions and former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, continues to be a core interest of Mueller.
All of this strongly suggests that, while recent news has focused on Mueller looking into the business dealings of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, which could lead to charges of money-laundering related to Trump’s long-standing deals with oligarchs from Russia and former Soviet states, the investigation of the question of his investigation is far from over.
No matter how many times Donald Trump says otherwise, there were frequent communications between staff members on his campaign and Russian officials. That includes George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Mike Flynn, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, and Jefferson Sessions at a minimum.
Collusion? There was collusion. Whether that collusion rises to the level of a chargeable conspiracy against the United States … that’s what Mueller is deciding now.
When it comes to Sessions, Mueller is expressing interest in a series of meetings between then Senator Sessions and Ambassador Kislyak.
Mueller’s team has been asking about a convention-related event attended by both Russia’s U.S. ambassador and Jeff Sessions, the first U.S. senator to support Trump and now his attorney general, said one source, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.
Not only did Sessions have brief meetings with Kislyak on two occasions, he had a lengthy visit with the ambassador in his Senate office. Sessions has tried to put this off to his role on the Senate Armed Service Committee, rather than his position on the Trump campaign, but no other member of that Senate committee had similar meetings.
And the news about what Mueller asked of Gates reinforces the idea that the special counsel is still out to explore the central tenet of his investigation: Connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
They told him they didn't need his cooperation against Manafort, according to a person familiar with the investigation, and instead wanted to hear what he knew about contact between the Trump campaign and Russians.
While Manafort left the campaign shortly after the RNC (when his connections to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine became uncomfortably noticeable), Gates remained through the transition. Gates was involved in many aspects of the campaign from its early days through to Trump’s initial time in the White House and seems to have been well-positioned to know about any ongoing collusion.
And if what Mueller wanted from Gates was help on collusion, not Manafort … then the fact that Gates got a sweetheart deal would seem to indicate that Gates provided just what was needed.
As part of Gates' agreement to cooperate with the special counsel a month ago, he earned a vastly reduced potential sentence and had several charges dropped in two criminal cases against him.
And those hoping that Sessions would appoint a second special counsel, either to look into the Uranium One deal or how the FBI handled Hillary Clinton’s email, were disappointed on Thursday when Sessions admitted he could find no justification for making such an appointment. The entire purpose of reopening those investigations was to provide an excuse to create an investigation where Mueller could be called as a witness, crippling his ability to investigate Trump. That isn’t happening.
Unless Trump acts directly, it appears that Mueller will complete his investigation. And it certainly seems likely he already has extensive details about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.