Tuesday, December 18, 2018

It's About Sanctions Relief For ... What?

In two recent blog posts--Crossfire Hurricane: The Theory Of The Case and More On Mueller's Theory Of The Case--I outlined what I view as the centrality of sanctions relief for Russia to Team Mueller's continuing jihad against the Trump administration. In the most straightforward version of the theory, Trump would have entered into a straightforward but corrupt quid pro quo with "the Russians": sanctions relief for Russia in exchange for something of value--some type of help for Trump's campaign, be it the release of supposedly "hacked" DNC emails or unspecified "dirt" on Hillary. This would constitute bribery under the terms of the Bribery statute (18 US Code 201), which covers not only government officials but also any "person selected to be a public official." In a more convoluted version of the theory, outlined in More On Mueller's Theory Of The Case, a case might be attempted--relying on the same corrupt transaction--for fraud against the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371).

While this theory of a sanctions relief for DNC emails deal is featured early on in the Steele "dossier" reports, I have always believed that the famous Trump Tower meeting was an early attempt to involve the Trump campaign in just such a corrupt quid pro quo deal. I described it in this way:

Thus, the Trump Tower meeting comes across as a straightforward attempt to involve the Trump campaign in a corrupt quid pro quo arrangement: bribery. The Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, promises "dirt," then shows up talking about the Magnitsky Act (i.e., sanctions). She clearly seems to be dangling her half of the quid pro quo, sanctions relief, in the apparent hope that the Trump team will enter into the "spirit of the deal." Notably, this Trump Tower attempt at eliciting an offer of a quid (sanctions relief) for the Hillary dirt quo came before the first Dossier reports. The fact that receiving such information from Russians is not unlawful (Mirengoff quotes conservative stalwarts John Yoo and David Marston to this effect) is, of course, beside the point of what I assume is Mueller's theory: if the receipt of the information is simply one half of the corrupt quid pro quo then the presence of a second half, sanctions relief, does make this arrangement a crime.

In presenting my case for the centrality of the Trump Tower meeting to this theory of a sanctions relief for election campaign help deal I referenced recent reports that Team Mueller was continuing to Press Hard on the Trump Tower Meeting. In my view there can be only one reason for the continuing interest in the Trump Tower meeting: it was an early attempt to set the Trump campaign up in just such a corrupt and illegal deal.

Now, today, comes reporting from the Daily Beast that sanctions are, indeed, central to the Mueller probe: Mueller Ready to Pounce on Trumpworld Concessions to Moscow. The reporting itself is even more confused than most reporting on the topic, but it does confirm the centrality of sanctions to Team Mueller, and the only point of sanctions relief for Team Mueller is if sanctions relief were part of a quid pro quo before Trump became president. After the election such a quid pro quo becomes diplomacy, but before the election it's bribery if the quo is intended to help Trump become president.

For more than a year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office has questioned witnesses broadly about their interactions with well-connected Russians. But three sources familiar with Mueller’s probe told The Daily Beast that his team is now zeroing in on Trumpworld figures who may have attempted to shape the administration's foreign policy by offering to ease U.S. sanctions on Russia.
The Special Counsel’s Office is preparing court filings that are expected to detail Trump associates’ conversations about sanctions relief—and spell out how those offers and counter-proposals were characterized to top figures on the campaign and in the administration, those same sources said.

The new details would not only bookend a multi-year investigation by federal prosecutors into whether and how Trump associates seriously considered requests by Moscow to ease the financial measures. The new court filings could also answer a central question of the Russia investigation: What specific policy changes, if any, did the Kremlin hope to get in return from its political machinations?

The bottom line is that Mueller is not going away any time soon, absent a boot in the rear from somebody with authority. Keep your eye on sanctions.

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