This is, of course, Bob Mueller’s job. As expected, he is playing his cards veyr close to the vest. But we can make some educated guesses where Mueller and his team are headed.
The core question is not whether Trump has a rather odd affinity for Russian oligarchs. That affinity is obvious. Now we know that this affinity extended to his inner circle and that they acted on it. Again, no huge surprise.
The core question is why? Where does this affinity arise from? The most likely answer is the same place that all of Trump’s affinities arise from: money. As Howard Fineman points out, Trump was in deep financial dog doo some years ago, and no US bank would lend him the money he needed to get out of it. He found that money somewhere else.
At the same time, Russia oligarchs with Putin’s endorsement had and have loads and loads of cash. And they have needed places to stash that cash outside of Russia. Of course, the do so with Putin’s approval … or else.
Hmmm … let’s see. On the one side, a dude who desperately needs cash and knows how to spend it big time. On the other side, dudes looking for ways to get cash to a guy who fits that description. This is not rocket science, though Donald Jr. may still have some difficulty following the trail.
Let’s assume that the Donald was indeed bailed out by Russiajn oligarchs acting for Putin. They would obviously believe that they own him. And the Donald would obviously feel gratitude if not obligation towards them.At a minimu, he knows full well thta they could spill th ebeans any time they want to. Bad for Trump.
In this light, Trump’s relations with the Russians during the campaign makes total sense. It makes more sense if you posit for a moment that Trump did not believe that he would win the election. He thought that it would be a lark. Some fun. And he probably imagined that any scandal about his campaign’s dealings with Russia would blow over after Hillary took office. Old news! Fake news!
But he won the electoral college vote. Suddenly, the Donald had to start thinking about what next? How does he begin to understand what a president is supposed to do? How will he keep his Russian pals happy without committing treason?
If all this is true, there are a couple of conclusions that one can draw. First, Trump is walking a tightrope. He knows it and can’t get out of it. He is likely to fall, either by enraging his Russian pals, or going too far to help them and getting in trouble in the US. Second, Mueller et al are likely to follow the money trail back to the above roots. And they are likely to piece together the story that flows from those roots.
My guess is that this will take a year or so to play out. That means 2018 just before the mid-term elections. Interesting.
BTW, one is always tempted to compare what is happening to Watergate. There is one big difference. No one understood at the time why Nixon took such risks to bug the offices of the DNC chair, Larry O’Brien. Why was O’Brien worth the risk? It was still a puzzle years after Nixon resigned. It was only much later that we started to see a potential reason – Nixon thought that O’Brien might have some dirt on him dealing with a slushy donation from Howard Huges. The Trump affair is not likely to remain as mysterious.
One more thing – Matthew Yglesias identifies the elephant in the china shop. Each and every time that Trump and his associates have lied about their dealings with Russia, Putin et al know the truth. They know the full truth. They can reveal that truth, or parts of it, whenever they want to. Indeed, the revelations about Donald Jr. may have been leaked by them as a “shot across the bow” to keep Donald in line. That is a scary thought.