In a few weeks, Robert Mueller’s tenure as chief of the Office of Special Counsel for Russiagate will hit its one-year mark. So far, there have been a number of high points along the way: cooperation agreements with several former Trump aides, including Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos; and the indictment in February of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies engaged in the Kremlin-backed 2016 social-media campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Two major events have punctuated Mueller’s inquiry: the pre-dawn raid last summer on the Alexandria, Virginia, home of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager in 2016; and then, this month, the coordinated FBI raids into the home, the office, and the hotel room of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer.
Both events show the awesome power that can be wielded by a special counsel, working hand-in-glove with the Justice Department and the FBI, executed properly according to a warrant authorized by a judge who was convinced, in both cases (in the Cohen raid, upon request from the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, after referral by Mueller’s office), that law-enforcement officials had strong reasons to believe that they’d find criminal evidence relevant to an ongoing investigation. (Never mind the howls of outrage from Fox News, comparisons of the FBI to the Nazi Gestapo by Newt Gingrich, and Trump’s own charge that the FBI “broke into” Cohen’s office as part of what the president called “an attack on our country.”)
It’s reasonable to say that both the Manafort and Cohen raids have likely brought Mueller much closer to being able to conclude whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its unprecedented assault on our democratic system in 2016. As reported here last week, Manafort’s multiple entanglements with Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs have now, according to Mueller’s court filings, involved a business partner in Kiev with ties to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, who maintained ties to both Manafort and the GRU as late as mid-2016—and there’s no telling what else the famously taciturn and leak-averse Mueller knows.
Like Manafort, Cohen, Trump’s virtual mini-me and the real-estate tycoon’s “fixer,” is himself multiply connected to Russia. That’s the case even though what triggered the April 9 raid on Cohen may relate to payoffs to a porn star and to a Playboy Playmate, charges perhaps unrelated directly to Russiagate but which could potentially result in Cohen’s being indicted for bank fraud, money laundering, and/or campaign-finance violations. Like Manafort, then—also dinged for financial crimes unrelated to Russiagate and who now faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence—Cohen may soon have to face the same Hobson’s choice that confronts Manafort: Cooperate with Mueller, or spend a big chunk of the rest of his life as a guest at a federal detention facility.