Mueller’s Indictments: Working Up to the “Head of the Snake”

| Frank Montoya Jr.
Frank Montoya Jr.
Retired FBI Special Agent

There’s been a lot of chatter in the public forum since Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced his indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for violations of U.S. law in connection with his investigation of Russia’s interference in our sovereignty and the possible coordination of Americans in that effort.

Not surprisingly, there has been a mad scramble to determine what the indictments mean, including judgments on whether they are a good thing or bad for the president of the United States.

I suppose it is a sign of our times that mentioning the legal standing of a president of the United States in the same breath as a wide-ranging and, yes, legitimate, investigation of a Russian intelligence operation on U.S. soil is a normal as the sun rising in the morning, but it’s still breathtaking to me.

And I spent a lot of years doing these kinds of investigations. They just never involved the highest office in the land — or stakes that were so significant.

This should not be read as an indictment of President Donald Trump — not yet — but what Friday’s indictment means is that, contrary to what the president and his spokesman would have us believe, the investigation isn’t over. Far from it, I’d wager.

And while the president may be absolutely right in his all caps insistence there has been no collusion between his campaign/administration and the Russians, that’s a moot point. The special counsel’s investigation — and the FBI’s effort before it, for that matter — has never been about collusion.

It has been about the possible coordination of U.S. Persons, particularly from the Trump campaign, to enable or facilitate the Russia effort. If, in fact, that occurred, what we, all of us, should be worried about isn’t the misjudgment of a bunch of incompetent amateurs, but a criminal conspiracy to undermine the Republic. Despite my distaste for the current administration, I hope and pray that is not the case. But the career law enforcer and intelligence officer in me worries otherwise.

Why?

It boils down to something else I took away from the indictment. Even a casual observer of events over the past year knows there is likely more than one aspect of the special counsel’s investigation: possible conspiracy is one avenue. Financial crimes are another possibility. Even “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the form of obstruction of justice and abuse of power are likely on the special counsel’s investigative “to-do” list.

But to pursue most, if not all, of these issues as violations of our laws, you typically need a predicate offense, or offenses, on which to base them. Charging the Russians with the crimes set forth in last Friday’s indictment is a meaningful way to do that.

Throw in media reports in recent days that former Trump Campaign CEO and Senior Counselor to the President, Steve Bannon, spent upwards of 20 hours with the special counsel, and Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, is nearing a plea deal, and it is awfully hard for me to believe there isn’t more coming from the special counsel in the way of legal action.

Think about it. Why would it take Bannon that long to plead the Fifth, or say nothing happened? Why would the special counsel want to make a deal with Gates if it’s not for something substantial in return?

Another point to ponder:

I worked closely with the Bob Mueller when he was director of the FBI. As other of my former colleagues have testified in public forum, he is a man of the highest integrity. He’s focused. He approaches every problem like the formidable prosecutor he is; methodically, based in fact, and until it is solved.

Consider what is publicly known about his effort to date. The Papadopoulos and Flynn convictions. The Manafort and Gates indictments. The Russian indictments. The president and his defenders would have us think these are stand-alone activities that have or had no bearing on him or his campaign prior to the election. Perhaps. But it would also be a mistake not to look at them as the first layers of prosecutive activity reaching towards a greater outcome.

Some commentators have assessed this as reaching for the “lower hanging fruit.” That’s an interesting way to look at it, but the reality is this is what you do as you work your way up an organizational chart to lop off the head of the snake in a criminal enterprise.

And just who is that snake?

So far, it is a serpent of mostly Russian origin and, for the sake of the Republic, I sincerely hope it remains that way. But if not, at least we can take comfort that a public servant like Bob Mueller—who, throughout his distinguished career of public service, has always put principle above politics and the rule of law over any individual—is leading the charge against a very real threat to our nation.

That threat has not only bitterly divided us internally, but has left our closest allies wondering what has happened to a nation they once admired and respected.

The Author is Frank Montoya Jr.

Frank Montoya Jr. is a retired FBI special agent and senior executive with extensive experience in counterintelligence matters.  In addition to running FBI field offices in Honolulu and Seattle in the course of his career, from February 2012 to May 2014, he was detailed to the ODNI as the National Counterintelligence Executive (now NCSC).

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6 Replies to “Mueller’s Indictments: Working Up to the “Head of the Snake””
  1. As retired federal investigator I’d lake to make three points. First the vast majority of criminal investigations at the federal level are carried out by Special Agents at the GS 12 and 13 level with oversight by a GS 14. Mid level (GS 15) managers, are just that managers. They are in the business of administratively supervising people and office operations, not investigations. When you get GS 15 personnel working as investigators, politics is most definitely a factor. Second, if the Russians were indicted for interfering with our election, shouldn’t Dona Brazile be indicted for providing Hilary Clinton with debate questions before the debate? Getting a leg up on your opponent in a national televised political debate watched by millions definitely falls under the category of trying to influence an election. Third, in the immortal words of new York Judge Sol Wachler when speaking about the power and misuse of grand juries by district attorneys, “you could indict a ham sandwich.” Should the Russian’s send one of the indicted people to the US, retained competent counsel for them and demand a speedy trial via the speedy trial act (90 days), Mueller would find himself in the place of a dog chasing a car, “What does he do if he catches it?” My guess is the prosecution would fail. So, where will the investigation go from here, only Mueller knows.

    1. The “Head of the snake” as it were, is the DNC. Their server was NEVER hacked, as forensics clearly show the timestamps on the data transfer of the files in the podesta emails were too fast between files to have been over a network, and were almost certainly “leaked” and copied instantly on a thumbdrive, as opposed to a “hack” as has been widely claimed as the official narrative. Secondly, the rigging of the Democratic primary to favor Mrs.Clinton over Mr. Sanders, and the cheating at the national debates in which Mrs. Brazile gave Mrs. Clinton the questions in advance are FAR more damaging to our election process than some facebook ads or laughable trolls. Cheating literally happened in our election all right, but it wasn’t russian ads (released after the election no less) or mere trolls. This is entirely unprecedented and proves the DNC is a corrupt organization willing to cheat to win, and was allowed to do so with no visible repercussions (jail time). Unbelievable.

  2. Based on everything I’ve heard and read about Robert Mueller, I have the utmost faith in him. I believe that he will get to the truth of the matter. I think I know what that might be but the reality is that I don’t. While I might think I know, I trust that Mueller will find the truth and even if it isn’t what I expect or want, I will abide by his report.

    Thank you for this piece. I enjoyed it!

    1. What makes you think that Mueller has not already gotten to the truth of the matter, that there was no collusion by Trump or his campaign with Russian meddling or misdeeds?

      If there was any evidence of such collusion to be found, surely it would have been uncovered along with the activities of the 16 Russian persons and organizations that have now been indicted. Surely the resources of the Special Counsel and the FBI, which we included electronic surveillance of a Trump campaign member, would be more than sufficient to find it?

  3. Steve Bannon was the Trump Campaign CEO. He has not been indicted.

    This article seems to make much of the fact that Bannon was questioned for 20 hours. If the Mueller team continues to ask Bannon questions for 20 hours, surely he has to sit there and answer, right? And after all that, there is no indictment against Bannon. Who, I repeat, was the Trump Campaign CEO.

    Similarly, no indictments against Cory Lewandowsky. No indictments against Roger Stone (who has offered to testify, exhaustively, in public and without immunity; looking forward to watching that one). No indictmenst against Jeff Sessions. No indictments against President Trump, or against any Trump campaign official for anything related to the campaign or Russian meddling in it. All of this after a year of heavily-funded investigations, with all the resources and powers of the FBI and other federal agencies (including illegitimate ones, such as ungrounded FISA warrants).

    All of this strongly indicates that the Mueller investigation is moving closer and closer towards exonerating President Trump, not indicting him.