No rest from Russian troubles
PAUL CONNEW on the ongoing investigations into the Trump administration's Kremlin links
Donald Trump flew home from his controversial, colourful 12-day, five-nation Asian ego trip straight into the darkening shadow of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Connection criminal probe.
The latest twists of that inquiry are heading, predict well-placed sources, towards the possible arrest of the president's former national security adviser and key campaign ally Lt General Michael Flynn, together with his son Michael Jnr.
Intriguingly, however, the initial charges against the pair could centre on a 'Turkish Connection' rather than a Russian one. The twist centres on allegations that the pair, who deny the claims, struck a deal with the Turkish regime of President Recep Erdogan to 'extradite' or even 'kidnap' Fethullah Gulen, the US-based, cleric and anti-Erdogan campaigner, in return for a $15 million reward.
Mueller's team are investigating a December 2016 New York meeting between the Flynns and Turkish officials (when Flynn was already lined up to become Trump's national security adviser) to discuss 'forcibly removing' Gulen from the US.
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Quite apart from resembling a real-life version of a John Le Carré novel, the allegations potentially constitute a string of very serious federal crimes – including conspiracy, bribery and possibly kidnapping.
In addition, the Mueller investigation is also in possession of Federal records showing that Flynn failed to register $530,000 he was paid during the campaign that the US Justice Department contends principally benefitted Turkey – a possible violation of America's Foreign Agent Registration Act.
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What makes it all so dangerous for Trump himself is that Flynn is already deeply implicated in the whole 'Russian Connection' investigation and POTUS's own notorious attempt to close it down.
Flynn, of course, was the first senior figure to be sacked from Trump's troubled administration — after just 24 days in office — when the media exposed the fact that he'd lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his own pre-inauguration secret contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US.
It also emerged that Trump had earlier failed to sack Flynn after learning about his 'lies' and only finally acted when the US media ran the story and effectively forced the presidential hand.
Even then Trump's loyalty to Flynn continued with his explosive attempt to pressure the then FBI Director James Comey to 'let go' his investigation into the general's activities; the prelude to his firing of Comey that in turn triggered Mueller's investigation.
As The New European has previously reported, the Mueller team were already convinced that they had sufficient evidence to prosecute Flynn over his personal 'Russian Connection' deception even without the Turkish dimension, but have delayed bringing charges. That said, they are likely to be playing a smart tactical game, according to many US law enforcement experts.
'The obvious leverage Mueller has over Flynn is that he could indict the general's son,' tweeted Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor now running for Illinois attorney general as a Democrat.
The Mueller team is well aware that Flynn previously offered to co-operate with a separate congressional investigation into the 'Russian Connection' but only in return for immunity from prosecution.
It wasn't an offer Capitol Hill legislators felt empowered to take up, but Mueller and his team probably now have enough ammunition to compel Flynn to tell all he knows, possibly via a plea bargain deal for his son rather than the general himself.
'General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it if circumstances permit,' was the intriguing statement issued by his lawyers as far back as March, well before Mueller's criminal investigation was established.
In another dramatic development, Atlantic magazine has revealed that Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jnr had been in contact with WikiLeaks during the presidential election and had alerted top campaign figures to those contacts.
While the contents of the released messages were not in themselves damning, they beg the question of whether his father was one of those senior campaign figures he informed.
Significantly, perhaps, Vice President Mike Pence – the man who'd take over as POTUS should Trump Snr be impeached and ultimately forced from office – promptly issued a press statement denying any personal knowledge of those contacts.
Previously Pence had publicly dismissed suggestions that the Trump campaign had been 'in cahoots' with WikiLeaks as they released droves of damaging information about Hillary Clinton, originally hacked by Russian operatives.
But it wouldn't have been the first time Pence had been kept in the dark about suspect Russian Connection factors and the speed with which he disassociated himself from WikiLeaks revelation was seen by many as an important moment. Not least coming so soon after arguably the most controversial chapter of President Trump's Asian trip… his brief meetings with President Putin in Vietnam after which he announced the Russian leader 'felt insulted' by claims of meddling and suggested that Putin's denials were genuine (Curiously the Kremlin suggested no such exchange took place).
Either way, Trump's stance infuriated America's intelligence agencies who unanimously agree that the Putin regime did orchestrate interference aimed at swinging the election in Trump's favour.
It represented yet another U-turn by Trump who had previously and belatedly 'accepted' that the Russians had indeed meddled in the election while insisting reports of 'collusion' by his campaign team were 'fake news' and totally rejecting any suggestion it influenced the result.
And although the president retreated somewhat as he learned how badly his apparent 'acquittal' of Putin and condemnation of his own intelligence services was playing back home, it did little to appease his critics on Capitol Hill and among the US intelligence community.
All in all, on his return from overseas, Trump's ego has had a far from happy landing after 12 days away in which he enjoyed the flattery of strongmen autocrats like China's Xi Jinping and the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. Life in the US is not so comfortable for him.
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