Spreading like the blast from a high-yield nuclear device, the Trump Tower scandal has fireballed its way into every outpost of power and influence in American civilization. It has set the intelligence community against the president and prompted aggrieved members of Congress to call for a reheating of the Cold War. A special counsel and two congressional committees have quizzed hundreds of witnesses and collected millions of pages of supporting documents in a stab at unmasking Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The blast’s shock waves have decapitated the FBI, knocking out its director and its deputy director. The president’s men, his relatives and allies have been exposed as Russian dupes at best or agents of influence at worst. Some have tendered guilty pleas for lying. Another has confessed to money-laundering connected to his Eastern European influence peddling. Foreign policy initiatives—official and otherwise—designed to roll back the Russian sanctions have been examined. The president’s company finances, subpoenaed and dusted for Russian fingerprints, are probably resting in the special counsel’s vault, awaiting his audit. Our media can’t get enough of the story, nor can its consumers. The press has discovered a criminal underground populated by Russian thugs and demi-oligarchs. A book about the scandal, Russian Roulette, hit the stands as the No. 1 New York Times bestseller, with many similar volumes sure to follow. Facebook and other social media outposts have gotten sucked into the scandal’s stream for running the Russia-sponsored ads and content. Meanwhile, the data research outfit Cambridge Analytica, co-founded by Trump campaign executive Steve Bannon, which gorged itself on Facebook data, is being grilled about its connections with the Russian oil company Lukoil. (More Cambridge Analytica trouble ahead: A company executive boasts that it ran major parts of the Trump campaign, which might violate campaign-finance law and incoming national security adviser John Bolton ran a Super PAC that used compromised Facebook data.)
The scandal’s radioactive dust refuses to settle as old stories find new life. This week, the Daily Beast laid the smoldering mess directly at the front door of the Russian military intelligence directorate (GRU). The Beast story claims proof that Guccifer 2.0, the chatty hacker who took credit for delivering emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks, was not a Romanian hacktivist as some alleged but actually a GRU officer working from the agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow. The FBI agents who IDed the officer now work for the special counsel, says the Beast. The Daily Beast’s findings have snared former Trump campaign executive Roger Stone by the ankle and lifted him to the sky for our inspection, primarily because of his boasts of having made contact with the hacker via Twitter DMs.
Did Stone, who has always styled himself as the deftest of Washington operatives, stumble into a Guccifer Gulch? “Then and since, Stone has consistently denied that Guccifer was connected to the Kremlin,” the Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulsen report. If Mueller has the goods on the GRU, Stone’s extended explanation of his position that he never interacted with a Russian agent or intermediary will make good listening. Stone and WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange spoke on the phone in early 2016, according the Washington Post. Assange has consistently claimed that neither Russians nor their associates gave him the DNC emails. “Our source is not a state party. So the answer—for our interactions—is no,” Assange said in 2017. Assange’s extended explanation of how Guccifer 2.0’s trove ended on his servers would seem to command a close listen, too.
The question of whether the president will sack the special counsel or not has been an evergreen story ever since Mueller’s appointment. But this week, the evergreen blossomed alongside the Tidal Basin cherry trees as the president gave a series of mixed signals. “The White House says Trump isn’t thinking about firing Mueller but when the president tweets about ‘conflict of interest’ he is citing a cause that can be used to fire Mueller,” New York Times reporter Peter Baker tweeted early in the week. The likelihood of Mueller’s sacking rose when his attorney John Dowd told CNN the special counsel’s investigation should end. Then, Dowd resigned, reportedly over Trump’s insistence that he wanted to sit for an interview with Mueller, indicating that the special counsel's position was secure. Some even speculated this increased Trump’s odds of speaking directly with Mueller’s team. “I would like to,” Trump said Thursday. Trump reignited the original speculation of a Mueller takedown by embracing former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova as a potential addition to his personal legal team, perhaps as his public champion. DiGenova has been advancing a theory that Trump was framed by FBI agents who hoped to prevent him from becoming president, which is enough to make cautious gamblers bet that firing Mueller is about as likely as Duke making the Final Four. We anticipate with relish diGenova’s future cable show appearance, where he will surely provide extended explanations of his FBI theories.
Trudging through the scandal’s random ash and debris, we keep our senses alert for the descent of the next bomb, sure to kick up more of the same. That instrument, which will have Mueller’s signature on it, will add 10-fold, maybe 100-fold to the rubble. Will Mueller be obliterated before he can vanquish Trump? Or can we anticipate mutually assured destruction?
Send fallout shelter blueprints to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts saythat if we have enough shovels, we’ll all survive. My Twitter has eaten all its stocked canned goods. My RSS feed says, “Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.”