The heavily redacted memo that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sent to special counsel Robert Mueller last August raises more questions than answers, serving only to confirm that Mueller is running a counterintelligence probe, Andrew McCarthy writes in the National Review.
One of those front-burner questions — whether the "Justice Department alleges that President Trump is a criminal suspect — and, if so, in what crime," McCarthy writes.
Further, Rosenstein and Mueller saw the writing on the wall that they needed to amplify the purview of the special counsel in order to prosecute former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, McCarthy asserts.
"I believe Rosenstein amplified Mueller's jurisdiction because he wisely concluded that the objections to his previous failure to do so had merit," McCarthy writes. "It would have been clear to Rosenstein and Mueller that they could face headwinds in the Manafort prosecution unless Rosenstein articulated a clearer jurisdictional basis for it."
Also, that Rosenstein's memo is classified confirms McCarthy's assertions that Mueller is conducting a counterintelligence probe.
"Such investigations are classified. In criminal investigations, sensitive information is tightly held, but it is almost never classified," McCarthy writes.
McCarthy said he obtained Rosenstein's memo.
"After some opening background, Rosenstein instructs Mueller, 'The following allegations were within the scope of the Investigation at the time of your appointment and are within the scope of the [May 16 appointment] Order.' But after that, everything is blacked out except for two 'allegations' regarding Paul Manafort," McCarthy writes.
"The redacted portion is four times bigger than the unredacted Manafort portion, so Rosenstein has obviously authorized Mueller to investigate several 'allegations' about which we are still in the dark," McCarthy writes.
In trying to analyze the document, McCarthy keys in on the redacted portions of the memo given that "collusion is not a crime in and of itself."
"The August 2 memo's amplification of Mueller's jurisdiction is no more edifying than the May 17 appointment order's original grant of jurisdiction, which authorized Mueller to investigate 'any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump,'" McCarthy writes.
"So even with the amplification, we still do not know what crimes Rosenstein suspects, such that "collusion" should have prompted the appointment of a special counsel.
"Here, we must humbly concede, as these columns have many times, that we do not know everything the FBI knows. The government is conducting an investigation, and we are informed only about what officials choose to reveal," McCarthy writes.
All of which begs the question - how much of the basis for Rosenstein's memo has its roots in the unverified Trump dossier authored by former British spy Christopher Steele?
"The most notorious information to allege explicitly that Manafort conspired in Russia's election meddling is the Steele dossier — the unverified reports compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, whose political opposition research project was sponsored by the Hillary Clinton campaign," McCarthy writes.
"Does the Steele dossier form any part of the government's basis for Rosenstein's allegation that Manafort was complicit in Russia's interference in the election? If not, what is the factual basis of that allegation, which to date has resulted in no formal charges against Manafort?" McCarthy writes.
"Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is to be commended for attempting to rectify the deficiencies in his original special-counsel appointment order by issuing a memo that amplifies Special Counsel Robert Mueller's jurisdiction to conduct criminal investigations," McCarthy writes.
Rosenstein's explanation for the timing of the memo (ten weeks after the appointment order) is not very convincing, and the extensively redacted form in which it has been released means the memo raises more questions than it answers," McCarthy concludes.
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