Special counsel Robert Mueller’s emerging focus on Donald Trump’s knowledge of hacked Democratic National Committee emails shows he’s “laid the foundation” for a collusion case against Donald Trump, a former White House lawyer said.
Wednesday, NBC News reported Mueller’s team is probing how much Trump knew about the stolen DNC emails and whether he was aware the radical transparency organization WikiLeaks planned to publish those exchanges.
Andrew Wright, who served for two years as Barack Obama’s associate counsel, told Business Insider that line of questioning is a bad sign for the president.
"The one specious thing about Trump's lawyers' strategy is that they're saying there's no substantive focus on Trump when it comes to the collusion inquiry, that this is all about obstruction of justice, and that Mueller already has everything he needs from other witnesses and documents for the obstruction case," Wright said, referring to reported attempts by Trump’s attorneys to shield their client from sitting for an interview with the special counsel.
"Setting the obstruction case aside, what has happened over the last couple of weeks is that Mueller laid the foundation [for a collusion case] by showing the crimes of the Russians, in at least some form," Wright continued. "And now we're seeing his focus on Trump about the hacked emails. At this point, it's a matter of proving whether Americans were participants in this conspiracy to commit these crimes, and whether they aided or abetted these acts.”
WikiLeaks—which the U.S. intelligence community considers an arm of the Russia government—played a pivotal role in the 2016 presidential election, releasing troves of DNC emails during times of peak tumult for then-candidate Trump. As the Atlantic reports, the organization was in touch with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., from September 2016 to at least July 2017.
According to leaked private Twitter messages, longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone also corresponded with WikiLeaks—despite assertions from both parties they’d never communicated during the campaign. Mueller has asked witnesses about Trump’s interactions with Stone throughout the campaign, Business Insider reports.
Trump, meanwhile, publicly touted the emails leaked by WikiLeaks, using them as proof of his claim former rival Hillary Clinton was “corrupt.”
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said during a July 27, 2016 press conference.
Last month, Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three corporations on conspiracy charges for their role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Robert Deitz, former general counsel at the National Security Agency, told Business Insider the charges could be a stepping stone in Mueller’s quest to find whether any Americans aided Russia’s effort.
"In these kinds of investigations, prosecutors typically move up the food chain," Deitz said.”I suspect that Mueller, through earlier interviews or documents, finally has sufficient evidence to begin putting a story together that involves Trump."
Deitz told Business Insider Mueller "will continue to fill in the dots until he has enough to seek an interview with [or indictment or] Trump."