Sunday, October 29, 2017 at 5:53 PM

Mueller’s First Indictment Has News Media Reveling in Speculation

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

A federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first criminal charges in the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference, two sources told NBC News, marking a significant milestone in an inquiry that has roiled Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office will make public an indictment on Monday, a US official with firsthand knowledge of the process confirmed to NBC News, without disclosing the name of the target or the nature of the charges.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn have been said to be key figures in Mueller’s probe, law enforcement sources familiar with the matter have told NBC News in the past.

(NBC News, October 28, 2017)

Alas, there is nothing newsworthy about the news media reveling in speculation. Indeed, you’d be forgiven the impression that rank speculation masquerading as breaking news is their stock-in-trade. This trend actually moved me years ago to begin writing commentaries like “Journalism Is Having a Very, Very Pathetic Moment,” November 13, 2013.

Apropos of impressions, reporting on this sealed indictment is such that you’d think it alone will determine the fate of Trump’s presidency. But nothing could be further from the truth. Never mind no less a person than David Gergen, the eminence grise of Washington pundits, contributing to the speculative hype. He did so by intoning on Friday’s edition of AC360 that

It certainly looks like the dam is starting to break now.

Except that, if host Anderson Cooper had the presence of mind, he could have exposed the folly afoot. He only had to ask his 7-10 panelists to name the person indicted on the first criminal charges in the special counsel’s investigation into Watergate. I’d bet good money that, except for Gergen and Carl Bernstein, none of the pundits hyping this first indictment would have had a clue.

For the record, a federal grand jury indicted E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, and the other “Plumbers” on burglary charges on September 15, 1972. But many other dams had to break before Nixon finally resigned two years later, on August 9, 1974.

That said, I’m all too mindful that refusing to speculate on this occasion is like refusing to smoke at Woodstock (or at Burning Man for you millennial readers). Not to mention that friends and colleagues around the world are reveling in this speculation as giddily as anyone in Washington.

Incidentally, continuing the analogy, Trump ranting that Mueller’s investigation is a witch hunt is like a crazy uncle ranting that Woodstock is Devil worship. Moreover, Trump pleading that Republicans should “DO SOMETHING” will have about as much impact as that uncle screaming that the police should.

Meanwhile, the consensus view is that either Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort is the target of this first indictment. I think it’s Manafort – for a variety of Ukraine-related reasons, which I’ve written about in commentaries like “Ukraine’s Orange Revolution Turns ‘Red,’” February 25, 2014, and “Leaked Panama Papers Affirm more than Reveal Offshore Banking Secrets,” April 6, 2016.

But it might be helpful to recall that the first indictment in Watergate stemmed from the Plumbers’ third-rate burglary. That indictment had little to do with Nixon resigning to escape impeachment. In a similar vein, I suspect that the first indictment in this Russia probe will stem from Manafort’s money laundering, tax evasion, and/or other financial shenanigans. This indictment will have little to do with Trump eventually resigning or facing impeachment – on a battery of charges related to corruption and obstruction of justice.

In other words, this first indictment might have little or nothing to do with the Trump campaign colluding with Russia. But Mueller’s investigation could (and I predict will) still hand down indictments that have Trump’s fingerprints all over them. Indeed, I suspect Trump is trying desperately to project the presumption of guilt onto Hillary because he knows this all too well.

Related commentaries:
Special counsel
Journalism pathetic
Ukraine
Panama papers

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