Three predictions for what Mueller will do next

“As a former prosecutor, here’s where I think the special counsel is headed.”

Former federal prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham writes:

Robert Mueller’s investigation is now 1 year old. Watching the slow reveal of witnesses, search warrants and subpoenas, the president’s supporters and his opponents may despair that it will never come to an end.

But buckle your seat belts and grab the oxygen masks. It’s about to get interesting. From my vantage point as a former federal prosecutor, Senate Judiciary aide and White House lawyer, the special counsel’s path forward seems very clear — almost inevitable. […]

Paul Manafort will plead guilty in the coming weeks. The two indictments against Trump‘s former campaign, relating to his work for Ukrainian backers and his efforts to evade federal registration and to pay taxes on the proceeds of his work, are exceptionally strong. His junior partner in crime (and Trump’s deputy campaign manager) Rick Gates has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. And just last week, Manafort’s former son-in-law (and former business partner), Jeffrey Yohai, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. There is little question, in prosecutors’ circles, that Manafort faces certain conviction and a long prison term.

Manafort at the moment is exercising his own Hail Mary defense: claiming that Mueller has exceeded his authority in charging him. That claim was roundly dismissed last week in the D.C. court, and in all likelihood the Alexandria court will follow suit. Rosenstein’s charge to Mueller to investigate allegations that Manafort “[c]ommitted a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government” could not be more clear.

Once his Hail Mary motions fail, Manafort (and Mueller) will have every incentive to quickly reach a resolution. Manafort, who is 69, does not want to spend the rest of his years in prison. And Mueller needs to secure Manafort’s testimony and get his cases resolved before his July “deadline.”

With Trump’s interview in hand, and Manafort’s cooperation secured, we can expect that Mueller’s crack team will quickly finish the report or reports that they are doubtless already drafting.

And then, in or before July, the next chapter in this saga will unfold, also quickly: The delivery of reports to Rosenstein; the deputy attorney general’s decision whether to release the reports to the Congress and to the public; and the president’s efforts to prevent or delay Rosenstein from doing so. Whether those transpire on a weekend evening or not, Trump’s response could make the Nixon-era’s Saturday Night Massacre look like a moot court exercise.

Stay tuned. Air pockets ahead.

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Mueller’s investigation isn’t going to ‘wrap up’ soon — and Trump is still in peril

“The ‘wrap it up’ crowd is indulging in wishful thinking. The first anniversary of the Mueller investigation is unlikely to be the last.”

From Los Angeles Times:

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The milestone has emboldened White House critics of the probe to declare, as Vice President Mike Pence did on NBC News, that “it is time to wrap it up.”

Never mind that the Mueller investigation is, comparatively, in its infancy. The Whitewater probe of Bill and Hillary Clinton, for example, began in 1994 and ended more than six years later. Mueller’s 12 months of work has turned up more clear wrongdoing than Kenneth Starr ever did: There have been 20 indictments and 5 guilty pleas, including prominent senior members of the campaign and administration, and that doesn’t take into account the wealth of information that Mueller has yet to make public.

Some Republicans suggest that public opinion is shifting, that Trump’s refrain of “witch hunt” may be gaining purchase. As the president’s latest mouthpiece Rudolph W. Giuliani crowed, “We’ve gone from defense to offense.”

“Wrap it up” advocates can point to a slight uptick in Trump’s approval ratings, and a downtick in public support for the investigation. They seem to think that if Mueller doesn’t close up shop soon in response to political pressure, Trump’s position is strong enough that he could put an end to it, perhaps by firing the special counsel or the special counsel’s boss, Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, and weather any storm the move occasions.

They’re wrong. The probe isn’t going to end soon, simply or painlessly for this president. Trump remains in great peril.

Anyone paying attention over the last year knows Mueller will not yield to political pressure. His investigators haven’t leaked; they have ignored vicious personal attacks; they haven’t veered in the slightest from prosecutorial professionalism.

So to “wrap it up,” Trump would have to make a move, but will he? […]

The president and his lawyers are strategizing about whether he will agree to be interviewed by Mueller, either voluntarily or under subpoena. If he were to refuse, as the current swing of the pendulum suggests, and then try to end the probe, he would only seem more guilty and undermine his support even among Republicans. If his refusal were to lead, as expected, to a court battle, we would expect the Supreme Court to settle the issue. Any move by Trump to preempt it would again only undermine his credibility.

In addition, the president and his circle are well aware of how fast the midterm election is approaching and what effect an attempt to fire Mueller could have on the outcome. They want to avoid any action that would help the Democrats flip the House. Such a shift would change every calculation, not least because a Democratic majority could move to impeach the president early next year.

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Why Trump should fear Michael Avenatti more than Bob Mueller

“Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti are unlikely heroes. But their odd partnership might turn out to create the clearest path to accountability at the highest levels of government. We should be grateful for their efforts.”

From Politico Magazine:

Quick: What’s the basis of the civil lawsuit that high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti is pursuing on behalf of adult film actress Stormy Daniels?

It might take you more than a few seconds to recall that the suit is based on an agreement that Daniels signed shortly before the 2016 election, promising not to disclose her (alleged) sexual relationship with Donald Trump. She’s asking a California trial judge to declare that the agreement isn’t enforceable against her because Trump (or his pseudonym, David Dennison) never signed the document, and because it’s void for public policy reasons, too. Avenatti has been racing from one microphone and news camera to another, blaring damning information about Trump’s sometime attorney, Michael Cohen (and, by implication, the president himself). The suit, and Avenatti’s aggressive TV lawyering, has rattled Trump’s legal team, provoking Rudy Giuliani into a series of damaging admissions — including the revelation that Trump did indeed reimburse Cohen for his $130,000 payoff to Daniels.

Avenatti has boasted openly about his strategy, goading the 73-year-old former New York mayor at every opportunity as “out to pasture,” “tired” and “dazed and confused” and challenging him to a one-on-one debate on the case. “Not all cases are the same nor is the winning strategy,” he recently tweeted. “Here, the constant media/PR pressure has forced Trump, Cohen, et al. to make a series of huge errors and to make damaging admissions helpful to our case. This was not by accident.”

It’s undeniable that Avenatti has had an impact, but it’s also fair to say that some of the matters he’s been discussing — about clandestine meetings between Trump campaign operatives and Russian oligarchs, and about corporate contributions to the Cohen-created LLC, Essential Consultants — seem only dimly related to the underlying suit, and to the client on whose behalf Avenatti is supposed to be working.

Daniels says she’s OK with how her attorney is proceeding, but it’s worth asking: What’s going on here? How does any of this help her? The stakes would be high were that focus lost: If Daniels is found to have breached her contract, the agreement provides that she’ll be on the hook for a million dollars (in addition to the $130,000 settlement she’d then have to pay back).

But perhaps Avenatti is onto something, thanks to a fundamental fact about private civil litigation against high-profile defendants: Although these suits are primarily about this plaintiff against this defendant, they often have powerful secondary effects that take them into realms usually associated with policy, politics, and even public health and safety. Institutional actors as diverse as the tobacco companies and the Catholic Church might have continued their sheltering and denying ways but for the dogged persistence of private litigants. In the Daniels case (or, more accurately, cases, since there is now also a defamation claim against Trump for accusing Daniels of lying about a threat against her in connection with the alleged affair), the public has so far gotten more information, and more quickly, than anything a sclerotic and polarized Congress has managed to unearth about the supposed Trump-Russia campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation might also run into political shoals, but there’s plenty on the table already, thanks to the Daniels suit. Why?

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Robert Mueller’s most important accomplishment

“The special counsel’s Russia investigation has a lot to show for its 12 months of work, but one feat stands out.”

From The New Republic:

Americans are drawn to bold figures who rise above politics and clean up Washington. Trump played to that cultural bias during the campaign, portraying himself as an outsider whose wealth would insulate him from corruption and empower him to “drain the swamp.” But it’s Mueller, if anyone, who fits this cultural archetype. Over the past twelve months, the former FBI director has upheld the best traditions of the American civil service, rightly becoming an icon for the rule of law in an era when the concept itself is under siege.

One of the most startling things about Mueller’s inquiry is how rapidly it has advanced. Patrick Fitzgerald, the last high-profile special prosecutor to vex a presidency, went silent for almost two years after his appointment in 2003 to investigate who leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. (He dramatically resurfaced to announce charges against Scooter Libby, whom Trump pardoned last month in what many saw as a veiled threat to Mueller. Fitzgerald recently joined former FBI Director James Comey’s legal team.)

By comparison, Mueller’s investigation has been action packed. He’s brought charges against 19 people to date in the past six months. Thirteen of them are Russians, effectively beyond Mueller’s reach. The other six defendants aren’t so lucky. He’s secured plea agreements from former national security advisor Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates, and former Trump foreign-policy aide George Papadopoulos, all of whom have agreed to cooperate in exchange for lighter sentencing. Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to supplying Russians with bank account numbers, while Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan received a 30-day sentence for lying to investigators. The trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is expected to begin this summer.

Mueller’s primary charge is to investigate the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In February, he brought a series of indictments against Russian nationals and companies for conspiracy and wire fraud-related crimes. That indictment described a modest but effective campaign to exploit American racial and cultural divisions in an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and bolster Trump’s. It’s impossible to measure the impact of this campaign, but Mueller has done a valuable service by mapping the extent of Russian influence operations on social media, some of which had been previously reported by news outlets.

It’s harder to assess unfinished portions of Mueller’s work. The special counsel has yet to announce charges connected to the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails. He hasn’t tipped his hand on what he’s learned about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Moscow during the election. And he hasn’t indicated what conclusions he’s reached about whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by firing FBI Director James Comey last May.

From what’s publicly known, however, Mueller appears to be pursuing these questions with all appropriate zeal. Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, after an interview with the special counsel’s office last month, told CNN that his questioners “know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.” He also indicated that Mueller’s team interrogated him about Russian collusion. “The Senate and the House are net fishing,” Caputo told the network. “The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.” […]

It’s no surprise that Trump, who is patently insecure and hounded by doubts about his legitimacy as president, would feel uncomfortable about a special counsel scrutinizing him and his inner circle. But nobody else should. Americans can instead take pride that they live in a society where even a president must obey the criminal-justice process. Mueller’s investigation is the clearest possible expression of a fundamental democratic principle: No man is above the law.

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The untold story of Robert Mueller’s time in combat

“Robert Mueller’s job is to make sense of how Russia hacked the 2016 election. But to make sense of Mueller, you have to revisit some of the bloodiest battles of Vietnam.”

From Wired:

ONE DAY IN the summer of 1969, a young Marine lieutenant named Bob Mueller arrived in Hawaii for a rendezvous with his wife, Ann. She was flying in from the East Coast with the couple’s infant daughter, Cynthia, a child Mueller had never met. Mueller had taken a plane from Vietnam.

After nine months at war, he was finally due for a few short days of R&R outside the battle zone. Mueller had seen intense combat since he last said goodbye to his wife. He’d received the Bronze Star with a distinction for valor for his actions in one battle, and he’d been airlifted out of the jungle during another firefight after being shot in the thigh. He and Ann had spoken only twice since he’d left for South Vietnam.

Despite all that, Mueller confessed to her in Hawaii that he was thinking of extending his deployment for another six months, and maybe even making a career in the Marines.

Ann was understandably ill at ease about the prospect. But as it turned out, she wouldn’t be a Marine wife for much longer. It was standard practice for Marines to be rotated out of combat, and later that year Mueller found himself assigned to a desk job at Marine headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. There he discovered something about himself: “I didn’t relish the US Marine Corps absent combat.”

So he headed to law school with the goal of serving his country as a prosecutor. He went on to hold high positions in five presidential administrations. He led the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, overseeing the US investigation of the Lockerbie bombing and the federal prosecution of the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. He became director of the FBI one week before September 11, 2001, and stayed on to become the bureau’s longest-serving director since J. Edgar Hoover.

And yet, throughout his five-decade career, that year of combat experience with the Marines has loomed large in Mueller’s mind. “I’m most proud the Marines Corps deemed me worthy of leading other Marines,” he told me in a 2009 interview.

Today, the face-off between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump stands out, amid the black comedy of Trump’s Washington, as an epic tale of diverging American elites: a story of two men — born just two years apart, raised in similar wealthy backgrounds in Northeastern cities, both deeply influenced by their fathers, both star prep school athletes, both Ivy League educated — who now find themselves playing very different roles in a riveting national drama about political corruption and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The two men have lived their lives in pursuit of almost diametrically opposed goals — Mueller a life of patrician public service, Trump a life of private profit.

Those divergent paths began with Vietnam, the conflict that tore the country apart just as both men graduated from college in the 1960s. Despite having been educated at an elite private military academy, Donald Trump famously drew five draft deferments, including one for bone spurs in his feet. He would later joke, repeatedly, that his success at avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating numerous women in the 1980s was “my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

Mueller, for his part, not only volunteered for the Marines, he spent a year waiting for an injured knee to heal so he could serve. And he has said little about his time in Vietnam over the years. When he was leading the FBI through the catastrophe of 9/11 and its aftermath, he would brush off the crushing stress, saying, “I’m getting a lot more sleep now than I ever did in Vietnam.” One of the only other times his staff at the FBI ever heard him mention his Marine service was on a flight home from an official international trip. They were watching We Were Soldiers, a 2002 film starring Mel Gibson about some of the early battles in Vietnam. Mueller glanced at the screen and observed, “Pretty accurate.”

His reticence is not unusual for the generation that served on the front lines of a war that the country never really embraced. Many of the veterans I spoke with for this story said they’d avoided talking about Vietnam until recently. Joel Burgos, who served as a corporal with Mueller, told me at the end of our hour-long conversation, “I’ve never told anyone most of this.”

Yet for almost all of them — Mueller included — Vietnam marked the primary formative experience of their lives. Nearly 50 years later, many Marine veterans who served in Mueller’s unit have email addresses that reference their time in Southeast Asia: gunnysgt, 2-4marine, semperfi, ­PltCorpsman, Grunt. One Marine’s email handle even references Mutter’s Ridge, the area where Mueller first faced large-scale combat in December 1968.

The Marines and Vietnam instilled in Mueller a sense of discipline and a relentlessness that have driven him ever since. He once told me that one of the things the Marines taught him was to make his bed every day. I’d written a book about his time at the FBI and was by then familiar with his severe, straitlaced demeanor, so I laughed at the time and said, “That’s the least surprising thing I’ve ever learned about you.” But Mueller persisted: It was an important small daily gesture exemplifying follow-through and execution. “Once you think about it — do it,” he told me. “I’ve always made my bed and I’ve always shaved, even in Vietnam in the jungle. You’ve put money in the bank in terms of discipline.”

Mueller’s former Princeton classmate and FBI chief of staff W. Lee Rawls recalled how Mueller’s Marine leadership style carried through to the FBI, where he had little patience for subordinates who questioned his decisions. He expected his orders to be executed in the Hoover building just as they had been on the battlefield. In meetings with subordinates, Mueller had a habit of quoting Gene Hackman’s gruff Navy submarine captain in the 1995 Cold War thriller Crimson Tide: “We’re here to preserve democracy, not to practice it.”

Discipline has certainly been a defining feature of Mueller’s Russia investigation. In a political era of extreme TMI — marked by rampant White House leaks, Twitter tirades, and an administration that disgorges jilted cabinet-level officials as quickly as it can appoint new ones — the special counsel’s office has been a locked door. Mueller has remained an impassive cypher: the stoic, silent figure at the center of America’s political gyre. Not once has he spoken publicly about the Russia investigation since he took the job in May 2017, and his carefully chosen team of prosecutors and FBI agents has proved leakproof, even under the most intense of media spotlights. Mueller’s spokesperson, Peter Carr, on loan from the Justice Department, has essentially had one thing to tell a media horde ravenous for information about the Russia investigation: “No comment.”

If Mueller’s discipline is reflected in the silence of his team, his relentlessness has been abundantly evident in the pace of indictments, arrests, and legal maneuvers coming out of his office.

His investigation is proceeding on multiple fronts. He is digging into Russian information operations carried out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms. In February his office indicted 13 people and three entities connected to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian organization that allegedly masterminded the information campaigns. He’s also pursuing those responsible for cyber intrusions, including the hacking of the email system at the Democratic National Committee.

At the same time, Mueller’s investigators are probing the business dealings of Trump and his associates, an effort that has yielded indictments for tax fraud and conspiracy against Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and a guilty plea on financial fraud and lying to investigators by Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates. The team is also looking into the numerous contacts between Trump’s people and Kremlin-connected figures. And Mueller is questioning witnesses in an effort to establish whether Trump has obstructed justice by trying to quash the investigation itself.

Almost every week brings a surprise development in the investigation. But until the next indictment or arrest, it’s difficult to say what Mueller knows, or what he thinks.

Before he became special counsel, Mueller freely and repeatedly told me that his habits of mind and character were most shaped by his time in Vietnam, a period that is also the least explored chapter of his biography.

This first in-depth account of his year at war is based on multiple interviews with Mueller about his time in combat — conducted before he became special counsel — as well as hundreds of pages of once-classified Marine combat records, official accounts of Marine engagements, and the first-ever interviews with eight Marines who served alongside Mueller in 1968 and 1969. They provide the best new window we have into the mind of the man leading the Russia investigation.

Read the whole riveting thing …

Trump lawyer sold ‘insight’ into his high-powered client

“Some of the dealings have caught the attention of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”

From Yahoo News:

Already under investigation for a payment to a porn star, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney is facing intensifying legal and ethical scrutiny for selling his Trump World experience and views at a hefty price to companies that sought “insight” into the new president.

One company, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, acknowledged Wednesday it paid Michael Cohen $1.2 million for services, though they ended after a single meeting. Others, including some with major regulatory matters before the new administration, acknowledged payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over at least several months.

The corporate ties could suggest Cohen was peddling his influence and profiting from his relationship with the president. They also raise questions about whether Trump knew about the arrangement.

Cohen’s corporate ties were first revealed in a detailed report released by an attorney for pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. The report alleged that Cohen used a company he established weeks before the 2016 election to receive the payments from a variety of businesses — including $500,000 from one associated with a Russian billionaire. Financial documents reviewed by the Associated Press appear to back up much of attorney Michael Avenatti’s report.

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Robert Mueller has Trump cornered  

From HuffPost:

Special counsel Robert Mueller is methodically, brilliantly filling in pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When complete, the puzzle will depict a president who is ripe ― overripe ― for impeachment.

Mueller’s indictment on Friday of Russia’s cyberwarfare against the 2016 election was a tactical and investigative masterstroke. President Donald Trump is now cornered. Mueller’s report makes a total liar out of Trump for his repeated claims that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when Putin says Russia had nothing to do with it, that the hacking could have been “some guy in New Jersey.”

The indictments do not quite connect the Russian operation to Putin personally, but that’s beside the point. No serious person believes that an operation as sensitive as deliberate disruption of the U.S. election could go forward without Putin’s full knowledge and support in a state as authoritarian as his.

Trump, having repeatedly denied Russian involvement, has now shifted gears and is insisting that the proper test of wrongdoing is “collusion.” But this is a straw man.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly and publicly urged the Russians to come forward with dirt on Hillary Clinton. His top advisers met with Russian operatives to see what they had. That part of Mueller’s investigation is still open.

What we already know is plenty damning. A conspiracy of interest does not have to include an explicit tit-for-tat deal. It can be based on signaling.

In this case, Trump and his family relied on massive bailouts of his failing business enterprises from Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin. When he became a presidential candidate, the Russians treated him as an asset ― a useful idiot, as Stalinists used to put it. And when the campaign finalists turned out to be Trump versus the hard-line Clinton, the Russians sought to destroy her and elect Trump. Trump, meanwhile, became the most pro-Russia president in U.S. history, refusing to breathe a word of criticism of Putin, behaving like the head of a client state. This much of the story is hidden in plain view.

The details ― of Russian financing of Trump’s businesses, and of more campaign contacts ― are likely to be spelled out in further indictments, almost surely including members of Trump’s family, and in Mueller’s final report, which will look very much like a bill of impeachment.

Split From Trump Could Mean Flynn Is Now Cooperating With Mueller

There has been a rather ominous new development in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and the possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia.

From the New York Times:

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, notified the president’s legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel’s investigation, according to four people involved in the case, an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating such a deal.

Mr. Flynn’s lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

That agreement has been terminated, the four people said. Defense lawyers frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest. It is unethical for lawyers to work together when one client is cooperating with prosecutors and another is still under investigation.

GOP Lawmaker Says Special Council Mueller Puts U.S. at Risk of a Coup D’état

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has called for special counsel Robert Mueller to resign or be fired.

In a speech on the House floor Wednesday, Gaetz said, “We are at risk of a coup d’état in this country if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly-elected President of the United States. That is precisely what is happening right now with the indisputable conflicts of interest that are present with Mr. Mueller and others at the Department of Justice.”

Last week, Gaetz introduced a resolution that argues Mueller is compromised because he served as FBI director when the Obama administration signed off on a deal allowing a Russian company to purchase a Canadian energy company with uranium operations in the U.S. in 2010.

“These deeply troubling events took place when Mr. Mueller was the Director of the FBI. As such, his impartiality is hopelessly compromised. He must step down immediately,” Gaetz said in a statement Friday.

Goodwin: Robert Mueller Should Resign

New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin writes:

Forgive yourself if you are confused about developments in the Russia, Russia, Russia storyline. In fact, there are so many moving parts that you shouldn’t trust anybody who isn’t confused.

Consider this, then, a guide to the perplexed, where we start with two things that are certain. First, special counsel Robert Mueller will never be able to untangle the tangled webs with any credibility and needs to step aside.

Mueller, whose office is apparently leaking the “secret” news that a grand jury has approved charges against an unidentified defendant, assumed his role with one big conflict, his relationship with his successor at the FBI, James Comey. That conflict has morphed into several more that are fixable only by resignation.

That became obvious last week when events showed that any honest probe must examine the Obama White House and Justice Department. Mueller served as head of the FBI for more than four years under President Obama and cannot be expected to investigate his former colleagues and bosses.

But without that necessary step, his work would be incomplete at best. So it’s time for him to say ­bye-bye.

Goodwin further opines, basically, that as bad as the week has been for Mueller, it’s been even worse for Hillary Clinton.