How Robert Mueller has stayed so far ahead of everyone on Trump-Russia

It’s happened yet again. We all thought we’d found something new and shiny. Donald Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen was taking bribes from U.S. corporations and Russian oligarchs who wanted influence over Trump’s political decisions, and Cohen was barely even trying to hide it with a shell corporation. But after a few days of shock and awe, we learned that – of course – Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been secretly investigating these bribes for at least six months. So how does he keep pulling this off?

We don’t yet know precisely how Mueller first learned about the payoffs to Cohen. We only know that he began investigating them last year. Did someone rat Cohen out about it? Did Mueller obtain a subpoena for Cohen’s banking records for some other reason, and he just happened to spot these transactions as well? We’ll find out eventually. But we also saw another example this week of how Mueller works, and it lends more insight into what’s really been going on here all along.

Just over a year ago, political reporter Christina Wilkie (then of Huffington Post, now of CNBC) asked the public to help her pore over the Donald Trump campaign’s list of supposed inauguration donors. That crowdsourced effort quickly exposed that many of the donations were from fake names, fake companies, fake addresses, you name it. Trump and his people had made an extensive, yet sloppy, effort at covering up where the money really came from. There were also questions about where the money went, as most of it wasn’t actually spent on the inauguration. Now we’re learning that Robert Mueller is investigating the inauguration money trail.

Wilkie’s inauguration expose took place a few weeks before Robert Mueller was even appointed. It’s possible the FBI was already looking into it before he took charge. But it’s more likely he and his team took a look at the suspicious inauguration transactions that a reporter and a bunch of members of the public had dug up, and decided to properly investigate it. The inauguration scandal had been forgotten by the public, but Mueller never forgot about it. He just hasn’t been advertising that he’s been getting to the bottom of it.

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