Yesterday, there was notable news that Sam Patten, an associate of Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty as a cooperating witness to the Special Counsel. Major as that was, however, I think it's even bigger news than was reported -- and bigger for an oddly subtle reason. Mind you, what got reported was substantive, particularly for publicly establishing the first connection between the Trump campaign and Russian payments through $100,000 in tickets for the Inaugural. It also gave a clue to helping resolve a major mystery -- why on earth the Trump inaugural raised over $100 million (double that for the major, superstar-filled Obama Inaugural) for a comparatively low-key event, and with still no bookkeeping reports where they money went...other than $26 million paid to a friend of Melania Trump for doing pretty much nothing. So, this crack in the wall gives rise to the observation of possible money laundering, illegal influence peddling (foreign money is not allowed for paying for a presidential Inaugural) and establishment of a slush fund.
Pretty huge stuff. But as I said, I think this is much bigger than even that.
After all, it turns out that Sam Patten didn't just become a cooperating witness, but has been one since all the way back in May! That's over three months ago. So, Robert Mueller and his lawyers have been gathering inside information for the past quarter of a year with a cooperating witness who has slipped under most everyone's wire. Though despite being unknown, he carried a great deal of heft, as an associate of the Trump team's campaign manager. And of Manafort's associate Rick Gates who stayed with the administration even after Manafort left it and has already pleaded guilty.
But no, significantly meaningful as that is, even that is not the most noteworthy thing about the story to me. Something else leaped out.
While watching news coverage yesterday, I heard a very minor comment from Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg News who was part of a panel on MSNBC. She offhandedly noted that earlier that day after the story broke she called Rudy Giuliani for a comment about Sam Patten pleading guilty. "Who's he?" Giuliani asked. The panel broke up laughing, but funny as that is, keep in mind something critical: as clownish as Rudy Giuliani actions have been the past few months, he is officially the lead lawyer of Trump's outside counsel team. And he didn't even have a clue who Sam Patten was. If anything shows the total cluelessness of Trump's defense, that right there might be it. And that, in a word, is massive.
But -- even that isn't the reason I think this is such an even bigger deal than is the attention the news story has rightly gotten. It's not because it shows a profound level of incompetence of Trump's legal defense team, but far more what it represents on another level entirely.
Okay, here we have this extremely big story -- an associate of Trump's campaign manager who has pleaded guilty, become a cooperating witness, been giving evidence for three months, providing proof of a likely-illegal connection between the Trump administration and Russians, and...and...and almost NO ONE had any idea who in the world he was! It's not a matter of Trump team incompetence being so far out of the loop, not even recognizing the name of a an associate of their former campaign manager, it's that that's how deep Robert Mueller's investigation has gotten. People have been trying to analyze what Mueller knows and what it all means, and all that analysis is merely based on what little we know floating on the surface. But in reality, there is the monumental depth of evidence Mueller has that the rest of the world doesn't even have a clue of -- and this one little tidbit that came our way yesterday isn't minor at all for just being a tidbit, but rather on its own, this mere crumb is actually significant. Try to imagine now all the other pieces of major evidence that the Special Counsel has that are hidden completely deep in the vault, far out of our sight.
A while back, I heard a former FBI official say, "We haven't just seen the tip of the iceberg of what Robert Mueller has, we've only seen the tip of the tip of the iceberg." Similarly, there was a new story yesterday (from Axios, I believe) listing all the many areas of information that Mueller has that we don't have any idea of -- things like phone records, emails, financial records (which includes, by the way, having Trump's tax returns), what was said in interviews with cooperating witness like Mike Flynn, and several more such items. A former associate of Robert Mueller's was asked if he thought this list of half a dozen substantial areas was a pretty comprehensive list. "No," he said. "I don't think it even comes close."
And the guilty plea and cooperation of the near-totally unknown Sam Patten, as significant as it is what he's provided is just a hint of that.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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