There are two basic strategies seasoned investigators use to gather information from uncooperative targets. Most are hunters, aggressively going after their prey with pressure, threats, and intimidation. Some are trappers, laying down bait and setting up situations to help them move from one subject to the next as they climb the ladder of evidence.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is well-known as a trapper. He sets up scenarios, often well in advance, to help him convince witnesses and subjects that they need to come clean.
The light sentence recommendation his team made for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is being interpreted by many in mainstream media as an indication he gave up a lot against his former boss, President Trump. I don’t believe this is the case for a few reasons that I’ll cover shortly. It’s much more likely that he’s using Flynn as an example to show others that if they work with him, he’ll cut them a sweet deal.
For everyone currently being investigated and for everyone moving forward, Mueller has the example to match his cooperation narrative. He can now say, “Look, I let Flynn out with no jail time because he cooperated fully and gave me everything I need to know to move forward on other subjects.”
This also means he’ll likely throw the book at Paul Manafort, who he claims did not cooperate and continued to lie after agreeing to cooperate. That’s the other example he needs in order to demonstrate to everyone he talks to in the future what happens if they don’t cooperate.
He’ll say, “Do you want me to treat you like Flynn or Manafort? Are you going to cooperate and get my positive recommendation or are you going to be like Manafort and spend the rest of your good years rotting in prison?”
It’s a compelling argument and an amazing trap if that is, indeed, what he’s doing.
There are three reasons I believe Flynn didn’t give up much on the President:
- He probably didn’t know much. He wasn’t a long-time friend of the President, nor was he especially trusted by the administration. His interaction were likely coordinated through Donald Trump Jr or Jared Kushner during the transition period.
- The redactions are golden. Either there’s plenty still being investigated, which runs against reports that the investigation is wrapping up, or it’s part of the show for the sake of future witnesses. It demonstrates to them Flynn gave up a ton of information. It also shows much of what Flynn disclosed is remaining classified. This build’s a witness’ or subject’s trust that their secrets won’t make it to the public eye.
- No new indictments. Moving on from Flynn means the investigation can either ramp up or ramp down. This is a double-edged sword. If Flynn gave little to move forward on targets, no indictments should be expected. If, on the other hand, he gave information on important targets closer to the President (Jr. or Kushner), this could mean the investigation is ramping up.
At this point it’s all speculation, but there’s one part of the document that caught the attention of mainstream media.
“The fact that he is saying ‘senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,’ I would be a little nervous if I were the people involved in the obstruction of justice investigation, starting, of course, with the president of the United States.”
“I don’t think that is just filler material,” Toobin said. “I think that is a statement of how Mueller is going to approach the remainder of his investigation as he starts thinking about the people in the White House.”
This could be nothing. It could be directed at those already in trouble such as Manafort or Rick Gates. Or, it could be something of concern for his current or future prey.
Only Mueller knows what Mueller knows. All we can do now is speculate. But if he is setting traps at this late stage, it bodes well for the President. As for those beneath him, that’s a different story altogether.