With the release of the House Intelligence Committee's report finding no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign, Congressional Republicans have seemingly dealt a death blow to the "Russian collusion" narrative which was already hurtling toward irrelevance. Indeed, the special counsel himself has publicly stated that he has "pivoted" toward investigating financial crimes and allegations of obstruction of justice.
But with President Trump threatening to take a more "hands on" role at the Department of Justice, Mueller has found himself in a bind. How can he continue to justify the probe if the original premise has been found to be completely invalid?
Fortunately, Mueller received some badly needed assistance on Friday from a major Russian opposition figure: former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Somehow, an organization called Dossier, which was established and financed by Khodorkovsky - a former oil tycoon and longtime nemesis of Russian President Vladimir Putin who turned into one of Russia's most vocal dissidents - managed to get its hands on emails stolen from the inbox of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the same lawyer who arranged the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. after promising through an intermediary to supply the Trump campaign with "dirt" on Trump's erstwhile rival, Hillary Clinton.
The emails reveal that Veselnitskaya worked closely with the Russian Ministry of Justice to help thwart a US Department of Justice probe into allegedly ill-gotten money being invested by corrupt Russian oligarchs in New York City real estate. And according to the New York Times, which was obtained the emails from Dossier, the communications undercut Veselnitskaya's claims of impartiality.
That said, the communications revealed in the emails took place years before Veselnitskaya set foot in Trump Tower. What's more alarming than the emails claims is the notion that Russian opposition figures are stepping up to independently assist Mueller and the Democrats in keeping the "Russia collusion" narrative alive is certainly...interesting.
Veselnitskaya acknowledged her work for the Russian government in an interview with NBC News set to air Friday.
Shown copies of the emails by Richard Engel of NBC News, Ms. Veselnitskaya acknowledged that "many things included here are from my documents, my personal documents." She told the Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday that her email accounts were hacked this year by people determined to discredit her, and that she would report the hack to Russian authorities.
The exchanges document Mr. Chaika’s response to a Justice Department request in 2014 for help with its civil fraud case against a real estate firm, Prevezon Holdings Ltd., and its owner, Denis P. Katsyv, a well-connected Russian businessman.
Federal prosecutors say Ms. Veselnitskaya was the driving force on Mr. Katsyv’s defense team, a description she has echoed in court filings. In a declaration to the court, she identified herself as a lawyer in private practice, representing Mr. Katsyv and his firm.
The Justice Department prosecutors charged Mr. Katsyv’s firm in 2013 with using real estate purchases in New York to launder a portion of the profits from a tax scheme in Russia. They were seeking Russian bank, tax and court records, the type of documents that typically form the crux of civil money-laundering cases. The Justice Department asked the Russian government to keep the matter confidential, "except as is necessary to execute this request," according to court documents. Russia and the United States have a mutual legal assistance treaty governing law-enforcement requests.
According to the Times, the leaked documents refute Veselnitskaya's claim that she was acting in a "private capacity" when she initiated contact with the Trump campaign, even though the activities detailed in the documents took place years earlier.
Ms. Veselnitskaya had long insisted that she met the president’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman in a private capacity, not as a representative of the Russian government.
"I operate independently of any governmental bodies," she wrote in a November statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives and his institutions other than those related to my professional functions as a lawyer."
But while the Times details the contents of the documents in detail, it failed to highlight an obvious irony: that in exposing alleged machinations by the Russian government to interfere in the US election, it used the same alleged strategy pursued by shadowy Russian hackers and Wikileaks, the two biggest boogeymen in the ongoing Russian collusion saga.
This isn't the first time a Russian opposition figure has sought to aid Mueller. Earlier this year, Aleksei Navalny released videos that he said included evidence that Oleg Deripaska - who has since been targeted by US sanctions - attempted to meddle in the US political process.
And despite President Trump's insistence that everybody should "get over" the collusion narrative now that the Intel Committee report has been released, it appears his foreign enemies have other plans.
The question now is: Will Trump respond to the leaked emails, or is Trump convinced that his latest bombing raid on Syria plus the sanctions targeting "Putin ally" Oleg Deripaska will be sufficient to demonstrate to Mueller that he is not in bed with the Kremlin. A parallel question is whether this is the start of a coordinated campaign by Russian dissidents to weaken President Vladimir Putin using anti-Trump US intermediaries, and what will Putin's reaction be.