The great unraveling

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The great unraveling

The Mueller investigation is complex, but the core question is simple: Were Trump or his associates involved in the conspiracy to hack Clinton emails and distribute them in the days before the 2016 election?

We now have the strongest evidence yet that the answer to this question is "yes."

NBC News obtained a draft document detailing what Robert Mueller knows about Jerome Corsi, the birther conspiracy theorist. It was prepared by Mueller's office in anticipation of Corsi pleading guilty and cooperating with the government. Corsi abruptly rejected that deal and expects to be indicted.

The document details emails between Corsi and Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to Trump. On August 2, 2016, Corsi wrote Stone while vacationing in Italy: "Word is friend in embassy [Wikileaks founder Julian Assange] plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I'm back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging."

Corsi was responding to a request from Stone, about a week earlier, to get in touch with Assange and find out what he had planned. Corsi did so through an intermediary, a London-based right-wing pundit named Ted Malloch.

Stone and Corsi may have also spoken on the phone. On July 31, 2016, Stone emailed Corsi with the subject line, "Call me MON."

The email correspondence establishes that there was a line of communication from Trump's inner circle to Assange and Wikileaks and it was used to tell the Trump team about Wikileaks' plans in advance.

Piecing together a timeline

We now know that, through Corsi, Stone learned the details of Wikileaks' plans on August 2, 2016.

Appearing on the InfoWars radio show on August 4, 2016, Stone said that he spoke directly with Trump on August 3. (In an indictment against twelve Russians, Mueller asserted that Stone was "in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.")

On the August 4 show, Stone also discussed the details of the upcoming Wikileaks disclosures:

The Clinton campaign narrative that the Russians favor Donald Trump and the Russians are leaking this information, this is inoculation because as you said earlier, they know what is coming and it is devastating. Let's remember that their defense to all the Clinton Foundation scandals is not that "we didn't do," but "you have no proof, yes but you have no proof." I think Julian Assange has that proof and I think he is going to furnish it for the American people.

What are the chances that Stone talked to Trump on August 3 and did not tell him what he had just learned about Wikileaks?

At a political event on August 8, Stone told a group of Republicans that he had "communicated with Assange." Stone later said he meant he had communicated with Assange "through an intermediary."

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“The president does not recall”

Did Trump speak with Corsi or Stone about Wikileaks?

Previously, Trump has been adamant that there was "no collusion" and he had no connection to the hacking operation. But Rudy Giuliani, asked whether Trump spoke to Corsi about Wikileaks’ plans, offered something well short of a denial.

Giuliani told the Washington Post that "the president does not recall ever speaking to either Stone or Corsi about Wikileaks."

CNN reports that, in his written answers to Mueller, Trump said he did not discuss Wikileaks with Stone. But publicly raising the specter of a faulty memory may be an attempt to innoculate Trump from potential legal issues. If Trump lied in his written answers to Mueller, it would be a crime.

When Wikileaks started to release the hacked Clinton emails in October 2016, just as Corsi told Stone would happen, Trump sprung into action. He mentioned Wikileaks 164 times in the final month of the campaign.

Corsi tried to cover his tracks

Corsi claims, implausibly, that he did not have a backchannel to Wikileaks and was just "pumping myself up in an email." (It's worth mentioning that Corsi, who wrote an entire book claiming that Obama was not born in the United States, is a notorious liar.)

But Mueller has evidence that Corsi tried to cover his tracks. From the draft document:

Between approximately January 13, 2017 and March 1, 2017, CORSI deleted from his computer all email correspondence that predated October 11, 2016, including Person 1's email instructing CORSI to "get to [the founder of Organization 1]" and CORSI's subsequent forwarding of that email to the overseas individual.

According to reports, "Person 1" is Roger Stone, "Organization 1" is Wikileaks, and "the overseas individual" is Ted Malloch.

Corsi and Trump strike a deal

The new information is coming from draft documents and not in official court documents. That's because Corsi withdrew from plea negotiations with Mueller. Corsi’s decision to make the document public now is an apparent effort to influence the media narrative about his involvement.

Why did Corsi change course? We don't know for sure. But we do know that he has been in touch with Trump's lawyers.

The Daily Beast reports that Corsi and Trump have a "joint defense agreement" which allows their attorneys to share information.

Corsi wrote about the deal in an upcoming book about his experience with Mueller. "After debating the pros and cons, we had decided that any time we could get the attorney for the president of the United States to offer assistance to us, we needed to be thankful and accept."

Corsi now appears unconcerned about jail time. "They can put me in prison the rest of my life. I am not going to sign a lie," Corsi told CNN.

It raises the question of whether Corsi was offered anything, directly or indirectly, in exchange for his decision not to cooperate with Mueller. The most valuable thing for Corsi, at this point, would be a presidential pardon.

Corsi goes on the attack

Corsi has hired attorney Larry Klayman, a right-wing operative, to file a criminal complaint against Mueller for "prosecutorial misconduct." In 2013, Klayman called for a coup against Obama to "cleanse the nation of the half-Muslim, anti-white, socialist fraud in the White House before the nation goes under for the final count." Corsi does not specify the nature of the misconduct.

Corsi's unbelievable defense

In a stunning interview on MSNBC Wednesday night, Corsi admitted that in July 2016 he told Roger Stone that Wikileaks had Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails and would release them in a serial fashion in October.

But he claims that he learned this not through an intermediary who talked to Assange but because he "figured it out" on a plane to Italy. When prosecutors asked him if he was given this information through "divine intervention," Corsi said, "that's what I'm saying."

Corsi also admitted in the interview that he lied during his Congressional testimony.

Trump dangles pardon for Manafort

Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort also maintained a joint defense agreement with Trump even after agreeing to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller. But Manafort's willingness to cooperate was shortlived. In a recent court filing, Mueller accused Manafort of lying to investigators and claims he breached the agreement.

The New York Times reports that, while Manafort was purportedly cooperating with Trump, his lawyer "repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on [Manafort's] discussions with federal investigators."

Manafort may be expecting a pardon. On Wednesday, Trump said it was a possibility.

"It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" Trump told the New York Post in an Oval Office interview. Giuliani admitted that Trump "recently asked his lawyers for their advice on the possibility of pardoning Paul Manafort and other aides accused of crimes." (They advised him that he should wait until after Mueller's investigation concluded.)

Noah Feldman argues that dangling a pardon for Manafort in exchange for his silence and information about the investigation "fundamentally undermines the rule of law by putting the president above it."

Trump comes full circle

Trump rose to political prominence in 2011 when he championed Corsi's theory that Obama's birth certificate is fake.

Now Trump is arguing that Corsi is telling the truth about his interactions with Wikileaks and Robert Mueller is trying to convince him to lie.

The other "major players" Trump is vouching for are Manafort, who has been convicted of multiple counts of tax and bank fraud, and Stone, who has a picture of Richard Nixon tattooed on his back.

In his interview with the New York Post, Trump called all three men "very brave."

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