After Russia Collusion Theory Falls Flat, Mueller Turns To Middle East In Search Of Trump "Gotcha"

The Mueller investigation - originally launched to determine whether Donald Trump or members of his campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 US election, has resulted in dozens of indictments and least eight guilty pleas or convictions - yet notably missing are any indictments related to Russian collusion with the Trump campaign

With the Russian horse long dead yet still subject to regular beatings, Mueller will now turn his attention to Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American elections, according to the Daily Beast, citing three sources familiar with this aspect of the probe who have said that related court filings are set to drop in early 2019. 

While one part of the Mueller team has indicted Russian spies and troll-masters, another cadre has been spending its time focusing on how Middle Eastern countries pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump’s administration. Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, according to people familiar with the probe. Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran. -Daily Beast

Cooperating witnesses have reportedly told the special counsel's office information about foreigners' plans to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Mueller's team has been mulling whether to issue new charges on this side of the investigation according to two sources with knowledge of the probe. 

"If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven’t seen," said former US attorney Harry Litman. "I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated. This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story."

The Beast suggests that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn - who sat for 19 interviews with Mueller's team - has provided the special counsel information that may help with the new phase of the investigation. 

In often-heavily redacted court documents made public over the last two weeks, the Special Counsel’s Office hinted at ways in which Flynn helped with its investigation into links between Trumpworld figures and the Russian government.

But Flynn was also involved in conversations with representatives and influential individuals from other foreign governments, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel—encounters The Daily Beast has reported over the last several months. Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller could bring new details about the scope of the special counsel’s probe into how individuals from those countries offered not only to help Trump win the presidential election, but also how they sought to influence foreign policy in the early days of the administration. -Daily Beast

The Beast notes that it's unclear exactly how this aspect of Mueller's investigation overlaps with his mandate from the Justice Department to investigate Russian collusion - however that hasn't stopped him from pursuing Paul Manafort over his work in Ukraine, or Michael Cohen's tax fraud, for example. It's clear Mueller is able to investigate whatever he pleases. 

Mueller also has the jurisdiction to “investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the special counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses,” according to the code. -Daily Beast

"For something like this to happen, Mueller would have needed to get approval from [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein for this," said Litman. "It’s not really in the original grant of jurisdiction and it appears then that he made his case to Rosenstein some time ago and that Rosenstein agreed."

Mueller has also reportedly been investigating several meetings involving Lebanese-American businessman and UAE emissary George Nader - who helped arrange a meeting between Blackwater founder and Trump ally Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev - head of one of Russia's sovereign wealth funds. Nader also acted as a go-between of sorts between various Gulf State government representatives, one "well-connected Israeli," and Trump's team. Nader has been working with Mueller's office since March, however it is unknown what information, if any, he has provided. 

In one August 2016 meeting, first reported by The New York Times and later confirmed by The Daily Beast, Nader told the room that the crown princes of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help Trump win the election. Also ready to lend his services was Joel Zamel, a self-styled Mark Zuckerberg of the national-security world with deep ties to Israeli intelligence. Zamel had already been in close contact with the Trump team because one of his companies, Psy Group, had drawn up a plan to use social-media manipulation to help Trump clinch the Republican nomination. The company sent former senior campaign aide Rick Gates that proposal. -Daily Beast

Zamel and Psy Group had more extensive links to the Trump campaign than previously reported, according to the Beast's November reporting. Former employees claim that at least two other individuals from Trump's team reached out to the firm during the campaign. 

Notably, Zamel "remained close to the Trump team throughout the election and into the transition," after having been introduced to the campaign through Nader - who Zamel in turn met through former Dick Cheney aide John Hannah - another target of Mueller's probe. 

Zamel assisted the Trump team right after the election - even crafting a regime change roadmap for Iran. Nader, meanwhile, was promoting a plan to economically sabotage Tehran - ostensibly a scheme by the Saudi and Emiratis to convince the incoming Trump administration to act against Qatar and Iran - their top regional competitors. 

"The New York Times reported this year that Nader worked with Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy to urge the White House to take an aggressive stance against the two countries.," according to the Beast

Mueller has also probed Nader’s role in the January 2017 Seychelles meeting between Prince and Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. In his House testimony, Prince said the meeting was a chance encounter and the two met to talk about trade and mineral wealth. But prosecutors this year received evidence that showed the meeting was premeditated. Communications reviewed by The Daily Beast reflect that narrative.

A memo shows the two spoke about a range of topics, including peace between Ukraine and Russia, military operations in Syria, investment in the Midwest, and nuclear weapons. Although RDIF is under U.S. sanctions, it was and is still legal for U.S. individuals to meet with Dmitriev, and, in some circumstances, do business with the fund. -Daily Beast

Whatever direction Mueller takes next, we're sure it will conveniently cast a perpetual shadow of doubt over Donald Trump right into the 2020 election and beyond.