Robert Mueller’s ominous black bars

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal courthouse in Washington, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, following a status hearing. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal courthouse in Washington, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, following a status hearing. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

We can only hope that Donald Trump reads pages 2 and 4 of the addendum to Robert Mueller’s new sentencing memo. They’re guaranteed to give him night sweats.

Mueller’s memo, filed in federal court last night, says that Michael Flynn — the ex-Trump apparatchik and Russia hireling who served as national security adviser for a grand total of three weeks — should be rewarded for his fulsome cooperation with the special counsel’s ongoing global probe. Eighteen months ago, Flynn’s lawyers said that he “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it,” and now it’s clear that he told it. We’ll just need to wait a while longer to get the dirty details — as will Trump.

The millions of Americans thirsting for bombshell info are probably disappointed, having spent yesterday in rapt anticipation of the memo (many declared on Twitter, “It’s Mueller Time!”), but in truth, the memo slaps Trump upside the head — not for what it says, but for all that it hides.

On page 2 of the addendum, Mueller says that Flynn deserves to be a free man, with no time in jail, because “the defendant has provided substantial assistance in the criminal investigation” — whereupon the next 22 lines are blacked out.

Then, on page 4, he says that “the defendant also provided useful information concerning” — whereupon the next 25 lines are blacked out.

The memo is festooned with black bars, but it’s not hard to parse their importance. Mueller is clearly proceeding on three fronts: An investigation into the links between Russia and key Trumpists (what Mueller cagily calls “interactions between individuals in the Presidential Transition Team and Russia”); a separate criminal investigation (unnamed, because the topic was black-barred); and yet another investigation (which may or may not be criminal in nature, because even that was black-barred).

What it likely means, according to people who know how the criminal justice system works (as opposed to the Trump shills and trolls who don’t know what they don’t know), is that Mueller is nowhere close to closing up shop, and that, quite the contrary, he is closing in on the Trump family and its intricate web of financial ties to the hostile nation that hacked our presidential election.

In the words of Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director of counterintelligence, “the extension redactions reflect that level of sensitivity.” It’s the old Watergate credo, updated for a far more serious scandal: “Follow the money.”

According to the memo, Flynn sang like a canary for 19 hours of questioning (although that’s dwarfed by Michael Cohen’s 70 hours), and he forked over “documents and communications.” Plus, his “long-term and firsthand insight” prompted other, unnamed “firsthand witnesses” to flip. And why does Flynn have so much insight? Because he’s a career intelligence official with a sketchy track record who began advising candidate Trump in the summer of 2015 — the same year he took $68,000 from Russian companies (for speeches, and commentary on the propaganda network RT), the same year that our intelligence agencies gained early evidence that Russian media outlets and covert trolls were targeting the ’16 election.

Everyone outside the Trump bubble has been jonesing for a holiday gift tied in a bow — namely, climactic revelations — but the wheels of justice grind slowly. Mueller writes: “While this (sentencing memo) seeks to provide a comprehensive description of the benefit the government has thus far obtained from the defendant’s substantial assistance, some of that benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing.”

Translation: Hose yourselves down, people. “Ongoing” means that we have many rivers to cross.

We may cross another on Friday, when Mueller is expected to file new court memos about Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. More likely, this slow siege of Trump’s castle walls will require our patience, until we presumably arrive at the day of judgement. It’s always wise to remember that Mueller knows way more than we do.

Legal analyst Benjamin Wittes, writing with colleague Mikhaila Fogel, has posed the big question: “When the walls are finally breached, how will we know that it really is the beginning of the end? Here’s a hint. The big one will not be a legal development, an indictment, or a plea. It will be a political development — that moment when the American political system decides not to tolerate the (scandals) any longer. What does that look like? It looks like impeachment. It looks like enough Republicans breaking with the president to seriously jeopardize his chances of renomination or reelection. The legal developments will degrade the walls. But only this sort of political battering ram can breach them.”

Mueller writes in the Flynn memo that “senior government officials should be held to the highest standards.” Unless or until we reach the day of judgement, that single line in the memo, coupled with the ominous black bars, should be enough to breach Trump’s sporadic sleep.

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