We’re Voting in the Eye of the Russia Investigation

In this era of fragmented and social media, I think people live in the present more than ever, which is why I don’t think the Russia investigation is going to have much of an impact on the midterm elections. After winning convictions against Paul Manafort and securing his cooperation around Labor Day, the special counsel’s office has kept their promise to maintain a low profile while the public is voting.  As a result, the president has almost completely dropped the topic and there has been little news to report.

It’s difficult to know which party this will benefit the most. There have been indications that the electorate is more engaged on other things and that the Democrats were doing better when talking about issues like health care than about Russia.  Perhaps they’re benefitting because their candidates aren’t beating a drum the voters don’t really want to listen to.

On the other hand, if the electorate isn’t thinking about how Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser, and personal lawyer have all been convicted of crimes and are cooperating with investigators then there has to be some advantage in that for the Republicans.

There is something wrong with the way this is playing out. If you’re familiar with hurricanes, you know that inside the eye things are calm but that this gives a false assurance since the winds will shortly return, often with even more force than before.  By agreeing to go silent for the election season, Robert Mueller is dutifully avoiding overly politicizing an investigation that should be impartial and fair.  But he’s also creating an artificial and temporary environment where people are debating politics without thinking about the biggest and most consequential issue before them.  Watergate was a Category 5 political hurricane, and the Russia investigation is at least as big.

We’re all inside the eye now, but if you look carefully you will see that the winds are still swirling. On Friday, Paul Manafort will be back in Judge T.S. Ellis III’s Eastern Virginia courtroom. He’ll be wearing a dark green prison jumpsuit instead of one of his extremely expensive tailored suits because Judge Ellis has denied his lawyer’s request that he be exempted from appearing in prisoner’s clothing.

At the conclusion of Manafort’s Virginia trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on some of the charges against him, which means that the government has the option to try again in front of a different jury. They’ve promised not to do that if Manafort cooperates to their satisfaction, but Judge Ellis finds this arrangement strange and wants to discuss it in the Friday hearing. According to him, the government seldom takes more than four months to decide whether to recharge on hung counts and he wants to know why this time should be different.

In the meantime, Manafort has already met with Mueller’s prosecutors several times as he seeks to earn favorable treatment at sentencing. There’s a Nov. 16 deadline in the Washington DC case for the prosecution and defense to issue a joint report to the Judge. So, not long after the election, we’ll learn the extent to which Manafort has been cooperative.

There has been a little bit of news trickling out of late from Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He, too, has been spending quite a bit of time with Mueller’s prosecutors, and now he has reportedly changed his party registration to “Democrat” and pledged to campaign against Trump’s reelection. On Sunday, he was back on Twitter:

According to Vanity Fair, he’s spent more than 50 hours talking with the special counsel’s people and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, and he’s done this despite still not having a formal cooperation agreement.

So, even though we haven’t been reading about the Russia investigation much over the last six or seven weeks, it is still churning across our political landscape doing untold damage to Trump’s presidency.

We’ll wake up after the midterms and find out what’s left of this administration, but we’ll have elected a new Congress to deal with the clean up without having really considered the issue when casting our votes.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.