by Chuck Ross
- Special Counsel Robert Mueller has stayed quiet ahead of the midterms, seemingly in observation of an unofficial Justice Department policy limiting major actions in politically-charged investigations before of elections.
- But Mueller has worked quietly behind the scenes, conducting interviews with associates of Trump confidant Roger Stone. Former Trump associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have also been cooperating with Mueller’s team as part of plea agreements.
- If Mueller has any indictments in the works, it is widely expected he will file them sooner rather than later.
Whether intentional or not, Robert Mueller has honored an unofficial Justice Department policy that limits major actions in political investigations 60 days before an election.
But as Mueller and his team of prosecutors have worked behind the scenes on investigations of Trump associates, numerous clues about the probe have emerged through witnesses and attorneys who have shared insight from the investigation with reporters.
The smoke signals have generated speculation that, if Mueller plans to issue indictments in his investigation, they will be handed down within days or weeks. There have also been reports that Mueller will submit a report on the investigation to the Justice Department by the end of the year.
If Mueller makes a major move in the near future, it will likely revolve around these areas of interest.
Mueller is focused on what longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone knew about Wikileaks’ plans to release Democrats’ emails before the election, according to numerous witnesses involved in the special counsel’s probe.
Mueller has interviewed or subpoenaed at least 11 Stone associates. Some have appeared before a grand jury that Mueller is using for the investigation.
Stone suggested at various points in the campaign that he was in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He also posted tweets that cryptically referred to forthcoming WikiLeaks releases of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails.
Stone has insisted he did nothing illegal, but has said he would not be surprised if Mueller indicts him.
Out of the numerous reports about Mueller’s focus on Stone is the suggestion that Mueller has evidence that the political operative communicated with Russians or directed WikiLeaks’ decisions to release Democrats’ emails.
Stone’s closest link so far to Russians are his August 2016 communications with Guccifer 2.0, the online persona allegedly used by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.
On July 13, Mueller indicted 12 GRU agents who provided hacked documents to WikiLeaks. The indictment also referred to an American citizen — believed to be Stone — who was in contact with Guccifer 2.0.
Stone has acknowledged communicating through private message on Twitter with the Guccifer 2.0 account. But he said he did not know the nationality of those running the account and said he did not provide any information from Guccifer 2.0 to the Trump campaign.
Stone has also released his exchanges with Guccifer 2.0 and asserts that they show he did nothing wrong.
Stone said he learned of WikiLeaks’ general plans from left-wing radio host Randy Credico. He’s said that Credico told him for weeks before the Oct. 7, 2016, release of Podesta’s emails that WikiLeaks would release a bombshell that would “roil” the campaign. Credico has denied being Stone’s backchannel to WikiLeaks.
Stone has also said his claims about WikiLeaks’ plans were based on information in an email he received on July 25, 2016. In the email, then-Fox News reporter James Rosen told a Stone associate a rumor that WikiLeaks was going to release documents about the Clinton Foundation in September 2016.
Stone’s interactions with independent journalist Jerome Corsi are also of interest to Mueller.
Corsi was subpoenaed by Mueller in early September and appeared for an interview later that month. He was set to appear before Mueller’s grand jury on Friday, according to ABC News.
A tweet that Stone sent on Aug. 21, 2016, has been cited by his critics as evidence that he had prior knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release Podesta’s emails.
“It will soon the Podesta’s [sic] time in the barrel,” Stone wrote.
Stone dismisses the allegation that he was referring to WikiLeaks’ plans. He has noted that the tweet refers to “the” Podestas, as in John Podesta and his lobbyist brother, Tony.
Stone says that Corsi sent him a memo around the time of the tweet regarding the Podesta brothers’ lobbying activities.
Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen
Mueller is clearly interested in both men. They have entered plea agreements with the government and have met extensively with Mueller’s team. It is unclear whether they are providing information about possible collusion involving the Trump campaign or about other topics.
Both Manafort and Cohen have been accused in the Steele dossier of taking part in the conspiracy to collude with Russia.
The dossier alleges that Cohen traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to develop a plan to pay off hackers.
Cohen vehemently denied the allegations prior to his plea agreement. After entering the plea deal on Aug. 21, his attorney, the longtime Clinton ally Lanny Davis, reiterated Cohen’s dossier denials.
Manafort has longstanding business ties to Russians, and one of his business associates, Konstantin Kilimnik, is believed to have been a Russian intelligence officer.
Manafort’s former business partner, Oleg Deripaska, is a Russian oligarch with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Manafort sent emails during the campaign instructing an associate to tell Deripaska that he was willing to provide briefings about the campaign.
The dossier also alleges that Manafort worked with campaign adviser Carter Page to set up a back channel to the Kremlin. But Page has also denied the dossier’s claims. He said he and Manafort have never spoken, let alone met and worked together.
Mueller is also said to be investigating a GOP operative’s attempts during the campaign to track down the 33,000 emails that Hillary Clinton deleted from her private email server. The operative, Peter Smith, claimed to have tracked down foreign hackers who claimed they had obtained Clinton’s emails. He also claimed that Michael Flynn was part of the project.
Clinton’s deleted emails were not released during or after the campaign, and there has been no indication that Smith was involved in searching for the emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee or Podesta.
Many of Smith’s associates have dismissed his effort as a last hurrah for an aging political operative. Smith killed himself last year at the age of 81, just 10 days after sharing details of his project with The Wall Street Journal.
Several people who Smith claimed were working with him on the email hunt have said they were not involved in the effort.
Smith circulated a memo on Sept. 7, 2016, that listed several Trump campaign figures, including Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and Kellyanne Conway, as taking part in the Clinton investigation. Bannon and Conway have denied knowing anything about the matter.
Three others included on the list all told The Daily Caller News Foundation over the weekend that they were not involved in the search, despite being listed on Smith’s memo.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe and Charles Ortel, an independent researcher who focuses on the Clinton Foundation, told TheDCNF that they were not involved in the Smith project despite being listed on the memo.
Fitton and O’Keefe said they did not speak to Smith about finding Clinton’s emails. Ortel was in frequent contact with Smith, but he never worked to find the emails.
Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced in his case before the special counsel on Dec. 18. He pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2017, to lying to the FBI about his contacts in December 2016 with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Very little has been released about Mueller’s interest in Flynn or about what information, if any, the retired lieutenant general has provided prosecutors.
Mueller has showed interest in the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. hosted a group of Russians led by an attorney with links to the Kremlin.
Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after an acquaintance, Rob Goldstone, told him that a “Russian government attorney” wanted to provide the campaign with information about Hillary Clinton’s links to Russia.
“If it is what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. responded.
Mueller’s grand jury has heard testimony from some of the meeting attendees. Prosecutors are seemingly interested in whether any information about Clinton was provided to the campaign. They also reportedly want to know when Donald Trump became aware of the meeting.
President Trump helped craft a statement in July 2017 responding to a forthcoming report revealing that the meeting took place.
The White House statement asserted that the meeting centered on Russian adoption policy. The meeting instead focused mainly on the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions law that the Russian delegation, led by attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, vehemently opposed.
The Russian government responded to passage of the Magnitsky Act by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
Trump Jr. and other meeting attendees have testified that the meeting was a dud and that Veselnitskaya failed to provide information about Clinton.
The attendees have also insisted that there was no follow up to the meeting.
– – –
Chuck Ross is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Chuck on Twitter