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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Russia revelations keep contradicting Donald Trump’s story. Does it matter?

Special counsel Roert Mueller is investigating President Donald

Special counsel Roert Mueller is investigating President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign ties to and possible collusion with Russia. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Remember Russia?

That’s OK, you’re forgiven. It’s the end of summer, with its flurry of beach days and barbecues, and a new school year looms.

It’s been busy on the news front, too. The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, Hurricane Harvey, North Korean missiles — all of it compelling, all of it demanding attention.

But the Russia investigation keeps percolating. It’s like an incoming tide, relentless and creeping closer to the White House.

Here’s what you might have missed from an array of news outlets over the last 10 days:

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller is working with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in probing the finances of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose work for a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin lasted longer and was broader in scope than had been reported.

News of the double-team broke a few days after Trump pardoned Arpaio, an act widely seen as a signal to anyone swept up in Mueller’s probe that the president would protect them, too. But Trump has no pardon power over state crimes, Schneiderman’s jurisdiction. This is called rearranging the chess board, a Mueller forte.

  • Trump signed a letter of intent to license his name for a Trump Tower project in Moscow in October 2015, when polling had Trump leading the GOP presidential field. This nugget came from Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, who reached out to Putin’s personal spokesman for help in reviving the flagging deal in January 2016, a time when Trump was saying kind words about Russia’s strongman.
  • Working the deal was Felix Sater, a mob-connected Russian émigré and longtime friend-business associate of Trump. Sater, who’s been convicted of fraud, worked on several real estate deals with Trump. In emails to Cohen, Sater said a Trump Tower in Moscow would help Trump’s candidacy. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this . . . ”
  • Mueller is working with IRS criminal investigators, who focus on financial crimes like money laundering and tax evasion. And they have access to tax returns.
  • Mueller has obtained a letter drafted by Trump and adviser Stephen Miller explaining why the president wanted to fire FBI Director James Comey, a letter White House counsel Donald McGahn blocked the duo from sending to Comey because McGahn found problems with its content. Trump’s lawyers have met several times with Mueller and have provided memos making the case that Trump’s later firing of Comey was not obstruction of justice.
  • We learned that Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin testified before a Mueller grand jury about the June 2016 meeting he attended with Donald Trump Jr., Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, at which the president’s son expected to be given damaging information about Hillary Clinton allegedly as part of the Russian government’s attempt to help Trump.

These and earlier revelations are facts. Lots of facts. What they add up to is still uncertain. I have no idea how Mueller is connecting the dots and what the picture will turn out to be.

What is known is that myriad denials of Russian contacts and dealings by myriad people from the president on down have been systematically proved untrue. And that neither Mueller nor the courts nor perhaps even the court of public opinion is likely to see the defense tried out most recently by Trump Jr. and Cohen — that nothing came of these contacts — as legitimate justification for things that happened.

Build the dune high, but the tide eventually washes over.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.