Here in Manhattan, there’s always a moment during a skyscraper’s rise when the tarp-covered piles of rebar and concrete sprout and the form and profile of the budding building suddenly takes shape.
Before long, it seems, construction is complete.
The same sort of thing is happening this week to Donald Trump’s presidency. Only it’s all heading in the opposite direction.
Before long, destruction may be complete.
History will show this to be the week we glimpsed the potential end of Trump’s administration. The strands of Robert Mueller’s investigation finally could be seen clearly, and the direction of his investigation into Russia, collusion and criminality came into focus.
The pace of the investigation is picking up, and it’s been tough to keep up. A brief recap of what emerged in just a few days:
Rick Gates rolls over
Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager who was indicted last fall along with his ex-partner, former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to charges involving hiding payments from their Ukrainian client, Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin.
More tellingly, the government this week dropped numerous charges against Gates in exchange for his cooperation into “any and all matters” regarding the Russian probe.
That includes possibly testifying against his old boss Manafort. Gates’s plea, then, is way to pressure Manafort – whose alleged tax crimes come with a paper trail that will be hard to explain away, legal experts say – to cop his own plea and in turn testify about what he know about contacts between Trump and Russia.
Hope Hicks and the ‘white lies’
Hope Hicks, Trump’s loyal communications director, abruptly announced she was leaving the White House just a day after admitting to Congressional committee that she told “white lies” on behalf of Trump.
The president, who never apologises or acknowledges a falsehood, reportedly railed at Hicks for being “stupid” in her remarks.
Whatever her rationale for leaving, Hicks, 29, is universally seen as one of Trump’s closest confidantes who was enmeshed in various elements of the Mueller investigation
The Wikileaks connection
NBC News reported that Mueller’s team is investigating Trump aide Roger Stone over his communications with WikiLeaks regarding hacked Democratic National Committee emails.
Of particular interest, the report claimed, was whether Trump, via Stone, knew or engineered the sudden release of DNC chairman John Podesta’s emails on the same day as the infamous Access Hollywood videotape that revealed Trump to be a sexual predator.
Jared Kushner’s finances
And the New York Times reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, received more than $400 million in loans for his beleaguered real estate empire after multiple meetings with officials from a private equity firm and Citibank.
Those loans are the most glaring example so far of Kushner’s conflict-of-interest problems, and raise anew the specter of other creditors – like the Russians – holding Kushner’s financial future in their hands.
What else? Mueller is said to be looking into whether Trump’s attempts to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions last summer were an attempt to obstruct the Russia investigation.
The embattled Sessions, whom Trump calls Mr. Magoo, was insulted yet again this week by Trump over his handling of an intelligence investigation – giving Mueller perhaps even more reason to investigate.
What does it all mean? Just like a wily prosecutor in the movies, Mueller is building his case, working first on shady guys like Manafort and Stone with something to hide, and trade. He then works on breaking – or scaring – the inexperienced sycophants either too dim or callow to realize the deep water they are.
The flipping of Gates is the key. Remember, he and Manafort made millions working for Yanukovych, Putin’s Ukraine puppet. Manafort, thus fortified with Ukraine cash, then offered his services free of charge to the Trump campaign.
Once installed, Manafort was then instrumental in having the Republican platform – the party’s manifesto for the coming election – changed to remove the call to arm anti-Putin rebels.
It seems an insult to any thinking person’s intelligence that these events are coincidences. But I’m sure Mueller, with Gates’ help, will sort all that out.
Stone, a black ops specialist who’s been making mayhem since the Nixon White House, is a braggart whose recklessness could spell his doom. A report in the Atlantic magazine says he messaged directly with Assange, contradicting his sworn testimony to a congressional committee.
Hicks and Kushner are pieces to the same puzzle. Hicks admitted fibs and Kushner’s potentially criminal conflicts of interest could lead both the tell Mueller what they know about the Russia connection in exchange for kinder treatment going forward.
Both are in a position to know in detail who the Trump campaign was in contact with and what the President knew.
Self-preservation, promoting fear, lack of accountability – all staples of the Trump management playbook. Ironic, then, that Mueller seems to be preying on the same human foibles in his quest for the truth.