Collusion alert! Latest Manafort leak reveals... not much

One question which comes up over and over again as we’ve watched the Mueller investigation unfold has basically been… where’s the beef? The big enchilada in this scenario is the “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. If you can find the collusion, then it could lead to High Crimes and Misdemeanors, making the most glorious dreams of most of the mainstream media come true. That’s why there seemed to be a palpable sense of excitement coursing through the news cycle when I woke up this morning and saw some breaking news about a new leak.

It had both the name of Paul Manafort and the word “collusion” in it. Could this be it at last? The smoking gun? The fire underneath the fog of political warfare? Had Mueller finally uncovered the holy grail? Let’s see what CNN had to say about it. (Emphasis added)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told special counsel Robert Mueller in a classified August 2, 2017, memo that he should investigate allegations that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was “colluding with Russian government officials” to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors in the Russia probe revealed late Monday night.

Mueller was also empowered by Rosenstein to investigate Manafort’s payments from Ukrainian politicians, a cornerstone of the Trump adviser’s decades-long lobbying career that has resulted in several financial criminal charges so far.

The revelation of the August 2 memo comes amid a broader court filing from Mueller’s prosecutors that offers a full-throated defense of their investigative powers and indictments thus far. In the filing, the special counsel’s office argues that a federal judge should not throw out Manafort’s case.

The heavily redacted memo appears to include an extensive list of names and allegations of possible wrongdoing on their part. All but Manafort’s have been blacked out, which seems sensible. The only reason this is coming to light now is the claim by Manafort’s attorneys that the case against him should be dropped because Mueller was going beyond the scope of his investigation when he dug into financial dealings Manafort had in Ukraine.

First of all, that seems like an extremely weak argument for Manafort’s team to be making. Even if Mueller was investigating something else, if he comes across evidence that some of those schemes ran afoul of the law, Manafort will have to answer for them eventually either way. But that’s not the highlight of all the news coverage this morning. Everyone is lighting off fireworks because the word “collusion” appeared in the memo alongside the name of someone from the Trump campaign.

You know what’s missing from this story? We’re not seeing even the slightest suggestion that Mueller actually found any collusion. All the memo says is that he was authorized to look into the allegations. It was one possibility set forth while defining the scope of the investigation. And given how badly the FBI has sprung leaks throughout this investigation (at least when it was damaging to Trump), if he’d come up with something I’m guessing it would have shown up on the front page of the New York Times long before now.

So what does this story show us? In terms of President Trump and “collusion” with the Russians, pretty much nothing. But it might be a good indicator that Paul Manafort could use a better legal team.