Mueller Report: Politics vs. Law
Mueller Report: Politics vs. Law
Ever since the Mueller report was released two days ago, both the left and the right have been flinging poo at one another, with liberals claiming that the report clearly details collusion between President Trump, his campaign and Russia’s efforts to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and conservatives claiming that the report completely exonerates the President of any wrongdoing.
Having read the full report, I can confirm that neither the left nor the right are correct. The excrement started hitting the wall almost as soon as the report was released, prompting me to wonder about the feasibility of being properly informed about its contents merely minutes after the report’s public release – enough to make these claims with any amount of certainty.
I don’t believe that’s possible. Yes, much of the 438 pages of Volume I of the report is redacted, and numerous portions of numerous pages are filled with citations, but it takes much more than several minutes to read the report and digest its contents. One has to wonder how the people making claims of guilt or total exoneration can do so with such confidence.
The answer is: they can’t.
Volume II is shorter at 182 pages plus several appendices, but it still would take a while to read.
The Mueller report is not and should not be a matter of politics; it’s a matter of law. And as we all know, there is plenty of daylight between the two.
Volume I provides quite a bit of detail about Russian “active measures” to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. This is nothing new. I wrote about these efforts at length here.
The first form of Russian election influence came principally from the Internet Research Agency, LLC (IRA), a Russian organization funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and companies he controlled, including Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering (collectively “Concord”). The IRA conducted social media operations targeted at large U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system. These operations constituted “active measures” (активные мероприятия), a term that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs.
But at no point does the Special Counsel’s report detail any evidence that points to active collusion – legally a conspiracy on the part of the President or any member of his campaign to work with Russia to impact the outcome of the election.
Although Mueller does detail plenty of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, none of it rises to the level of a conspiracy. Judging from the report, Trump ran his campaign the way he ran his business. He saw nothing wrong with talking with an adversary. He saw nothing wrong with passively receiving information about his political opponent, and he saw nothing wrong with mentioning issues he could “examine” in return, such as US sanctions against Russia. Business is business, and that’s the way he conducted it – as someone who is inexperienced in dealing with counterintelligence, foreign powers, and espionage issues, and certainly as someone who had no experience with foreign policy and diplomacy.
…while the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks’s releases of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation. Further, the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.
A couple of days have barely passed, and some Democrats are already calling for the impeachment of the President. Elizabeth Warren claims that the severity of Trump’s behavior warrants impeachment.
I read the Mueller report. When I got to the end, I realized this is a point of principle. Because it matters not just for this president, but for all future presidents. No one is above the law. pic.twitter.com/RdAHQYoH0V
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 20, 2019
“This isn’t about politics,” Warren claims in an interview with Rachel Maddow at about the minute mark. She lies. Politics is exactly what this is about.
“A president does not get to come in and stop an investigation about a foreign power that attacked this country,” Warren claims. Well, despite some hamhanded attempts on Trump’s part to make himself look better, fact is he didn’t stop the investigation that ultimately produced hundreds and hundreds of pages of information.
For instance, Trump had asked then-Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland to write a witness statement denying that he directed then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to speak with then-Russian Ambassador Kislyak about recent Treasury sanctions against certain Russian actors.
[Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it. Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak. McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, and she declined to say yes or no.
There is nothing illegal about the request. McFarland was not instructed to lie. She was asked to write a witness statement only “if she were comfortable with it,” and she declined because she had no insight into the information.
Does it look bad? Yes.
Was it inept? Yes.
Criminal? No. Obstruction of justice? No.
Yes, Trump wanted to put the Russia investigation behind him. It cast a shadow over his victory over Hillary Clinton and over the legitimacy of his presidency. And yes, he acted like a mob boss with his lieutenants, asking Comey for his “loyalty.” Frankly, that would have made me uncomfortable as well. But does it rise to the level of obstruction? My non-law degreed mind says no.
I’m not going to parse the entire report here, because the links I have provided above give you access to the full document. I will say, however, that although certain Republicans in the Trump camp crow about complete exoneration, they’re off base as well. There is plenty in that report that is damning to the President, although legally, it probably does not rise to the level of obstruction.
There’s once again a difference between what is legal and what is political.
Yes, there were efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence in the probe. Yes, Trump told aides not to publicly disclose the emails setting up the meeting with the Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and that the number of lawyers with access to them should be limited. Yes, he edited a press statement his son by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with an individual who may have had dirt on Clinton, and instead said only that the meeting was about adoptions of Russian children.
Was Trump trying to obstruct the probe, or save himself some embarrassment? That is what is unclear. And if the intent of the act is unclear, it would lack the mens rea for an obstruction charge, says the non-lawyer.
Yes, Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal in the Russia probe. Yes, he tried to get the special counsel removed.
Yes, it looks bad.
But again, we cannot be clear on the intent. Was he just being Trump and trying to end a situation he felt was a pain in his ass and was casting shade on his presidency? Did he lack understanding about the position he how holds, and that you cannot run a country the same way you run your real estate business?
Either way, it does not look good for the President.
The report details unsuccessful and hamhanded attempts to either hide evidence, influence the probe, or just save the President some embarrassment, and that in and of itself is bad for the President and bad for the nation.
Not having insight into intent, and therefore not having sufficient evidence for an obstruction charge doesn’t mean that wrongdoing did not happen. This is not exoneration!
To be sure, I’m thrilled that neither the President of the United States nor did his campaign actively conspired with a foreign adversary. Unlike the liberals who were waiting with baited breath to show Trump to be the enemy of the state, I was hoping that the probe would indeed show that no conspiracy took place.
But I am also disappointed in the sheer number of ridiculous attempts to obfuscate and bend the truth.
Unlike many, I don’t care whether Trump had affairs with a hundred hookers. I feel awful for the First Lady and Barron Trump who is probably bombarded with stories about his dad cheating on his mom with several bimbos, but when it comes to running the country, where Trump sticks his meat rocket, is none of my business.
But let’s not pretend there was no wrongdoing on the part of the President and his campaign. Let’s not pretend that Michael Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak soon after the incoming administration was pre-briefed on sanctions wasn’t damaging to our sanctions program – no matter what his “intent” was in those conversations.
Let’s not pretend that a lack of evidence to support a particular charge is the same as complete exoneration.
And let’s not engage in whataboutism, pointing to the wrongdoings of Hillary Clinton, Loretta Lynch, James Comey, and others, who probably need to be charged and prosecuted in a court of law for their actions.
Facts are that Trump’s misdeeds – although not sufficient for any charge to be leveled against him – are still misdeeds, and as an American, I’m embarrassed by them.