In advance of whatever awaits us tomorrow from the Mueller probe, I want to share a few thoughts about what might be coming. I will discuss them seriatim.
1. I don’t know who will be indicted tomorrow or what they will be indicted for. I don’t think anyone writing about this does.
2. I would not expect a big fish or a crime that goes to the heart of whether Americans colluded with Russia to turn the 2016 election. Something more marginal or secondary seems more likely, probably with the aim of gaining cooperation in pursuing the bigger question of collusion. But the Mueller probe has been very leak free. We really have little clear understanding of what is going on inside the probe.
3. Let me reemphasize that last point. It is hard to overstate how locked down the Mueller probe has been. We have inferred outlines of it from interviews conducted, documents requested, grand juries impanelled. When an investigation reaches a certain momentum certain actions become difficult to keep secret because defense attorneys become involved. They are not barred from talking to reporters the way the prosecution side is. There are far fewer leaks than past probes. We can’t rule out big surprises because we don’t know very much.
4. Above I mentioned the possibility of some marginal or secondary bad act. To put the entire story into a proper perspective, we should think of two distinct but possibly overlapping realms or channels of criminal activity. It seems highly likely that Paul Manafort was deeply involved in a network of money laundering and financial crimes connecting Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet states to the US. That is something that long predated and exists independently of Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. A number of people in Trump’s orbit and certainly Trump himself are part of that. A lot of that money channel goes into real estate and major construction projects. If the collusion channel exists it almost certainly grows out of the money laundering channel. Since the crimes are likely more clear cut and easier to prove on the money channel, it makes sense for the prosecutions to begin there. Such prosecutions might be use to pry free evidence about the collusion channel or it might end there.
5. Spies who are looking to enlist, suborn or compromise individuals generally look first for people who are crooked or desperate. The crooked can often be bought. They also have secrets. They can be bought and then their treachery can be used as a secret against them. Desperation makes everyone more vulnerable. The Trump campaign and administration are full of just those people: the crooked and the desperate. Desperation can take many forms. The Trump world is filled with people whose wealth, power, success, status are entirely tied to Donald Trump. That creates another form of desperation and dependence.
I would not expect to hear tomorrow about something that proves collusion or is even directly tied to collusion. I’d expect a financial crime, likely tied to money laundering, which may prove to be proximate to collusion or those involved in it. But who knows? We could be surprised because we don’t know very much.