“I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”.
Even back in the halcyon days of January 2017, when the world had only just embarked on its adventure up shit creek, it still seemed like the Donald doth protest too much. Although the manic capital letters made it tempting to believe his fevered protestations (oh wait, it didn’t), it seems in the end that the double negative was more instructive. “No nothing: is of course synonymous with ‘something’.
Since Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel in May 2017, he has uncovered an awful lot more than a mere ‘something’. In fact, Mueller's probe into Russian interference during the 2016 US election has already charged four high-level individuals from the Trump campaign.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former National Security Adviser, was charged with lying to the FBI about meetings with Sergey Kislyak, then-Russian ambassador. Paul Manafort, former Trump Campaign Chairman, and Rick Gates, Manafort's campaign deputy, were indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, and among other things, failure to file reports about foreign bank and financial accounts. George Papadopoulos, the campaign's former Foreign Policy Adviser, pled guilty last October to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russians related to alleged “dirt" in Hillary Clinton's emails.
Caption: former national security adviser Michael Flynn [left]
Appropriately for a commander-in-chief who embarked on his presidency with a lie (that his inauguration crowd was the biggest in history), and who has coined several terms regarding the nature of factuality (consider “fake news” and “alternative facts”), Mueller’s investigation centres on truth. His success thus far is courtesy of the President’s allies who, on his behalf, refuse to tell the truth. Indeed, he has succeeded in creating the impression that Trump’s closest advisers are a cartel of liars who were engaged in a conspiracy to land Trump the presidency, and latterly cover up the illicit means by which they did so.
Sam Nunberg, a former adviser to Trump, told the New York Times that Mueller’s uncovering of a culture of mendacity was the foremost threat to his presidency: “People are conspiring against themselves, and they are playing right into Mueller’s hands.”
Trump’s incessant lying has proven to be kryptonite to the media. Traditional news outlets are struggling to cope when the goalposts move so rapidly and what is claimed to be black on Monday is said to be white on Tuesday. However, while the media has been rendered impotent, Trump’s lies are proving to be the chisel that Mueller is using to chip away at the President’s façade.
Michael Cohen, for instance, said that he lied to Congress about Trump’s Moscow hotel plans in order to be consistent with Trump’s own comments on the issue (the President claimed he had no plans to build a tower in Moscow): “I made these misstatements to be consistent with [Trump’s] political messaging and out of loyalty to [Trump]”. Paul Manafort, meanwhile, stands accused of lying on top of lying – having entered into a plea deal in September to reduce his sentence in return for his cooperation with Mueller’s investigation, prosecutors have found that he continued to lie afterwards.
Trump is a Teflon politician. The slings and arrows have come thick and fast - sexual assault allegations, mob ties, racial housing discrimination, the birther nonsense, “Mexicans are rapists,” “John McCain isn’t a war hero,” Trump University, the Trump Foundation charity scam, “blood coming out of her wherever,” the Muslim ban, “Miss Piggy,” the Access Hollywood tape – yet the mud never sticks. So effective is his brand that all he has to do is evoke “the fake news media” and he is able to charge from one china shop to the next.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, inadvertently summed up the Trumpian attitude to truth: “Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed. This was not a big crime”. Faced with the ever-increasing likelihood that Trump is guilty of collusion, he is beginning to redefine what really counts as a crime. Sure, Trump might have paid illegal hush money to porn stars, and he was probably aware that his campaign team made overtures to Russia, but these aren’t real crimes, not like murdering or robbing someone.
However, it is at this juncture that Trump will hit a wall, and it won’t be the wall that infatuates his supporters. Namely, Trump’s media tactics will not wash with Mueller, a man who is almost mythical in his relentlessness. Whereas Trump is brash and garish, Mueller is reserved and austere. Where Trump thrives on chaos, Mueller insists on order. Most importantly of all, whereas Trump deals in shades of grey, Mueller’s law is monochrome. And for the purposes of this investigation, it is Mueller’s perspective that counts.
As the Special Counsel grinds on with his investigation, Trump has become increasingly flustered. “It’s a disgrace, it’s frankly a real disgrace,” Trump said on camera after the Cohen raids. “It’s an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.” He has even added to his soundboard of phrases, referring frequently to the investigation as a “Rigged Witch Hunt”.
However, Mueller’s incorruptibility is exactly what should concern Trump the most. Time Magazine, in naming Mueller a runner up in their ‘Person of the Year’ award, describe a man who is obsessed by following the rules. "If indicting his own mother was the right thing to do," says former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, "he would do it." David Kriss, former Assistant Attorney General in the national-security division of the Department of Justice, adds that "he likes to follow procedures, and those procedures he sees as a safe harbour against the stormy seas of politicisation."
Furthermore, Mueller has succeeded in horcruxing his investigation – not just by compiling a huge dossier of findings, but by farming out parts of the investigation to federal prosecutors who are pursuing the investigation independently. Consequently, even if Trump were to sack the Special Counsel, the investigation would survive.
Trump can no longer roll with the punches. Soon, he’ll take this one square on the chin. In 2019, the truth could KO the President.
Tom Mitchell is an Editor at Backbench