Three-Card Mueller

Three-card Monte is a centuries-old con game in which the dealer and his shills trick the unsuspecting mark into betting on a rigged card game.  Only the dealer and his people know where the winning card is, though the mark believes he's smart enough to find out where the winning card is buried.

The public – in this case, the mark – has been led to believe that the entire years-long Mueller investigation was into Trump's "collusion" with Russians.  But the dealer (Mueller himself) knows that it is part of a plan to undermine the president and reverse the 2016 presidential election, in which the only real Russian collusion was with Hillary.  By now his press supporters surely should know this, but they continue to feed the fiction that the game is to find the collusion in the one campaign in which there was none.

A recent Harvard-Harris poll shows that the universe of marks is getting smaller: sixty percent of Americans believe that the FBI demonstrates bias against the president and has set out to wound him politically.  Mueller's popularity keeps plummeting.  By mid-June (the last figure I've seen), "a record 53 percent [are] now saying they view the lead Russia investigator in an unfavorable light.  That's a 26-point spike since July [2017], when the poll first started asking voters whether they viewed Mueller favorably or unfavorably. ... Thirty-six percent of all registered voters are also seeing Mueller unfavorably, which represents the highest level since the polling first raised the topic 11 months ago.  Back then, 23 percent of all voters said they viewed Mueller negatively." 

Unfortunately for Mueller, not all those charged by his team are foreigners not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and therefore unlikely to contest the charges, nor so impecunious that they plead guilty to avoid bankrupting themselves – or, in the case of General Michael Flynn, protective of family members Mueller has threatened to also break on the rack.

Last week, the long-awaited trial of Paul Manafort, who briefly served as a campaign aide for the president, began.  He's being charged with 31 violations of law, none of which has anything to do with Trump or the campaign's supposed collusion with Russia.  The indictment charges tax fraud, bank fraud, and FBFA (reporting foreign bank accounts) violations.

As has been the wont of recent special prosecutors, particularly harsh measures at the prosecution's hand were employed – a middle-of-the-night raid on his home, with Mr. and Mrs. Manafort rousted from their beds and frisked in their nightclothes.  (In this week's trial, an FBI agent testified that they knocked three times first but entered with a key, though he could not say how the key came into the FBI's possession.)  Manafort has been held in solitary confinement during the proceedings based on a ruling by an Obama-appointed district court judge in D.C., where there is a second proceeding pending.  It is reminiscent of Patrick Fitzgerald's throwing former New York Times reporter Judith Miller in jail in the Libby case until she agreed to testify.  (After this, he confused her about her notes and led her to give false testimony.  Her recantation was the basis on which the D.C. Court of Appeals years later found Libby to have been likely innocent of the crimes for which he'd been convicted and reinstated him to practice.)  President Trump subsequently pardoned him.

In 2016 the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reinstated Mr. Libby to the D.C. bar after it said a legal disciplinary counsel had presented "credible evidence" in support of his innocence.  Mr. Trump's pardon should now restore his reputation in full. ...

Yet there is a broader lesson in the Libby case about special counsels and zealotry.  Mr. Fitzgerald knew from his first days on the job that Mr. Libby hadn't leaked Ms. Plame's name.  Yet rather than close up shop, he pursued dubious obstruction of justice charges based on the flimsiest of evidence.  For two years Mr. Fitzgerald also let the country think a crime may have been committed by people close to President Bush or Vice President Cheney when he already knew better.

As it happens, Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed by his good friend, James Comey, who was then Deputy Attorney General.  This is the Jim Comey who told Congress last year that his goal in leaking information to the press about his conversations with Donald Trump after he was fired was to trigger a special counsel investigation that is now led by Mr. Mueller.  This special counsel's work isn't done, but the Fitzgerald episode is worth keeping in mind as it unfolds.

It may be that the jury will find Manafort guilty of something, but to date, the trial court judge, T.S. Ellis III of Virginia, is showing far less credulity about the prosecution's claims and granting them far less license than did Judge Reggie Walton (Libby case) or Judge Emmett G. Sullivan (the Ted Stevens case).  Indeed, Judge Sullivan later acknowledged that the FBI and Department of Justice had pulled the wool over his eyes and has become a leading force in the fight against prosecutorial overreach and ethical breaches.

The best account of this week's trial doings comes from Daniel Greenfield

He begins by noting that Paul Manafort is not the only high-profile lobbyist who did work for the Ukrainian pro-Russian faction.  So did Tony Podesta, whose brother was Hillary's campaign manager; Bernie Sanders's chief strategist, Tad Devine; and Obama's White House counsel Greg Craig.  For those three, Mueller simply handed the matter over to Southern District of New York, where it has seemingly died.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee and Clinton donor, had been shepherding the Manafort case while giving the Mueller gang everything they wanted.  And then there was Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama nominee and Dem donor who was friends with Andrew Weissmann, the most aggressive figure on Mueller's team, who tore up Manafort's attorney-client privilege. ...

Unlike Judge Jackson and Judge Howell, Judge Ellis hasn't favored a side.  Instead he he's [sic] refused to put up with any nonsense from either side.

The Mueller gang realized that the free ride was over when back in May when [sic] Judge Ellis directly called out the prosecution over its real motives in bringing the case. 

"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort," he snapped.  "You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead to Mr. Trump." 

Judge Ellis wasn't happy at being used as a prop in a fake trial whose only purpose was to pressure Manafort into turning on Trump.  Unlike the previous rubber stamp judges, Ellis showed little patience with Mueller's nasty habit of treating everything involving the case as top secret.  He demanded to know the limits of Mueller's authority and a copy of the unredacted DOJ memo on which it was based.

He refused to allow the prosecution its usual poisoning of the well by parading at length through Manafort's closet and possessions.  He cut them down when they used the term "oligarch" to further muddy the waters and tried to get expert testimony from a non-expert witness on definitions the parties had already agreed to before trial.

When the prosecution persisted in its tricks, he shouted at the prosecution and ended the court session early.

Judge T.S. Ellis, a Reagan appointee, became very irritated with Mueller's prosecutors Wednesday as they droned on an on [sic] over Manafort's lavish lifestyle and his expensive suits.

"It isn't a crime to have money and be profligate with your spending," Judge Ellis said to Mueller's hack lawyer, Asonye.

On Wednesday Mueller's lawyers took a beating from Judge Ellis after they went into detail about Manafort's spending habits, whining about his expensive suits and how he paid for them via wire transfer – as if that's somehow illegal.

At one point, Judge Ellis became so irritated with Mueller's thugs fixating on Manafort's spending habits, he interrupted the prosecutor and sternly said, "Let's move on.  Enough is enough.  They can add."

It looks like Mueller's lawyers fall apart when they're actually challenged by an ethical judge; they're also getting smacked around in a the [sic] junk Russian bot case by Concord Management's legal team because they aren't prepared to try that case.

Mueller's key witness in the case, Manafort associate Rick Gates, immunized by the special prosecutor, will be the key witness – not Manafort's tailors – and much of the outcome of the case will depend on whether the defense counsel can persuade the jury that his testimony is not credible.

In the meantime, more skullduggery at the FBI has turned up – with still no apparent effort at transparency by Attorney General Jeff Sessions or FBI director Christopher Wray.  It turns out that even after the election and after the FBI knew that Steele had lied about press contacts, the FBI continued to seek reports from dossier fabulist Christopher Steele. 

Because he had broken his agreement with the FBI, bureau procedure did not allow agents to keep using Steele as a source.  But they did so anyway – by devising a system in which Steele spoke regularly with Bruce Ohr, a top Obama Justice Department official whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to search for dirt on Donald Trump in Russia.  Ohr then passed on Steele's information to the FBI.

In a highly unusual arrangement, Ohr, who was the fourth-highest ranking official in the Justice Department, acted as an intermediary for a terminated source for the FBI's Trump-Russia probe.  His task was to deliver to the FBI what Steele told him, which effectively meant the bureau kept Steele as a source.

Agents made a record of each time Ohr gave the bureau information from Steele.  Those records are in the form of so-called 302 reports, in which the FBI agents write up notes of interviews during an investigation.

There are a dozen 302 reports on FBI post-election interviews of Ohr.  The first was Nov. 22, 2016.  After that, the FBI interviewed Ohr on Dec. 5; Dec. 12; Dec. 20; Jan. 23, 2017; Jan. 25; Jan. 27; Feb. 6; Feb. 14; May 8; May 12; and May 15.  The dates, previously unreported publicly, were included in a July letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to the FBI and Justice Department.

Congressional investigators have read the Ohr-Steele 302s.  But the FBI has kept them under tight control, insisting they remain classified and limiting access to a few lawmakers and staff.  Congress is not allowed to physically possess copies of any of the documents.

Like York, I think the people at the FBI had two reasons for maintaining the information flow from Steele.  They were still looking to unseat the president, but as well, they were desperately trying to get any confirmation of the unverified charges in the dossier.  After all, the FBI regulations prohibit using unverified information to obtain a FISA court warrant, and even after the election, the FBI's people had none.

They still don't.

And they are still covering up their malfeasance and protecting their own.  It's time for Congress to seriously consider stripping counterintelligence from the FBI.  Thomas Lipscomb reminds us that FDR added that to the bureau's portfolio to pacify J. Edgar Hoover, who was jealous of the reports of derring-do by OSS head William Donovan.  The FBI is ill equipped for this function and in any event has seditiously misused it.  As for its skill in solving domestic crimes, the FBI announced on Friday it was closing down its investigation of the Las Vegas shooting massacre because it could not determine the shooter's motive.

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