If there was ever a tell as to what’s going on with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference, I think we heard it yesterday. Or, more accurately, we didn’t hear it.
In what is a politically high-profile case – the trial of Paul Manafort – the tension was thick in the air. Yet, there was one name that wasn’t brought up at all during opening statements, or at all throughout the day yesterday: Donald Trump, President of the United States and the man everyone believes is the central focus of the Mueller investigation.
In the Washington Post’s coverage of the trial, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, opened with bold assertions and strong language (twice reprimanded by the judge, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, for such claims and not sticking to what the evidence would show) and the defense, led by Thomas Zehnle, attempted to shift all of the blame for the wrongdoing to Manafort’s former partner, Rick Gates.
Here’s how the Post ended the story on the opening day, and it’s pretty telling.
Only once, toward the end of the first day, did anyone mention the words “special counsel.” Zehnle said it casually, in passing, with no reference to Trump or Russia or any of the political firestorm that has dominated the news for all of this presidency.
Yet the reason the courtroom was packed, the reason an overflow courtroom three stories below was also full, the reason the lawn in front of the building was given over to TV crews in their ritual encampment awaiting news, the reason for all of this was the cases yet to come, the deeper layers of the onion.
On this day, the prosecutors merely peeled off some of its skin, satisfying precisely no one.
At no point did anyone mention Trump or Mueller, but the absence of the former is pretty telling. The case has been built from the ground up around what Manafort did. Rick Gates cut a deal over Manafort. All of the evidence is on Manafort and his dealings.
I’ve maintained that I don’t think the special investigator has anything on Trump, nor do I think Trump himself is the target. Perhaps the people around him – many of those Trump has surrounded himself with in the past are shady characters not unlike Manafort – are going to end up going down, but you’re going to have a pretty difficult time taking Trump himself down.
What is clear is that the Mueller investigation isn’t fruitless. There is a there there. I just don’t think you can prove that Trump was party to any of the shadiness.