WHAT TO EXPECT — AND NOT EXPECT — FROM THE MUELLER REPORT
(HINT: Expect a devastating investigative report showing collusion, but no indictments — these will come later, and will be made by career federal prosecutors)
Mueller was never expected by the Rosenstein order of 17 May 2017 to make any lay up shots of his own (except to the extent that this was “necessary and appropriate” to conduct the investigation). Instead, the probe was intended (depending on what he found) to drive and dish to Congress and other federal prosecutors so they could do all the lay ups.
Almost everyone in the punditocracy seems to have missed the fact that the Rosenstein order authorized a counterintelligence (i.e., national security) investigation, not a criminal investigation.
To my knowledge, the Department of Justice has never issued a report on an investigation that was ordered and authorized as a criminal investigation.
Criminal investigations are not announced by the Department (and for good reason). They are conducted with as much secrecy as the investigations can reasonably manage, and they are not concluded with a public report.
At the conclusion of criminal investigations, the DOJ decides to indict or not. In neither case is there a report. When there are indictments, all the material facts relevant to the case appear in court filings. A public report by the DOJ on a criminal investigation apart from (much less in lieu of) charging documents is almost a contradiction in terms.
The Mueller investigation was not, at least in the first instance, a criminal investigation, so its report will not be a report on criminal findings — although the DOJ might decide that some individuals should be charged for criminal conduct based on the findings.
The Mueller investigation was a counterintelligence investigation, and the MUELLER REPORT will be a report on the investigation’s counterintelligence findings. The report will be a national security report.
It is widely understood and appreciated that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) defend the United States against hostile foreign actors by gathering intelligence on them. It is less widely understood and appreciated that the Department of Justice also has an intelligence arm in its National Security Division. This division also has a responsibility to protect the national security of the United States, but its area of responsibility differs from that of the CIA and the NSA. The National Security Division handles the counterintelligence operations of the United States government.
Counterintel aims at defeating the intelligence operations that other governments direct against the U.S., as well as the active intel measures that those foreign actors direct against us. The DOJ’s counterintelligence responsibilities include the investigation and thwarting of any efforts by hostile foreign governments or other actors to cultivate U.S. citizens or others inside the U.S. as their assets or agents. Thus, it might be said that the efforts of the CIA and the NSA are offensive, and that the efforts of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice are defensive
Robert Mueller, who became FBI Director one week before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, quickly learned after his appointment the importance of the National Security Division and the ways in which it was different from the purely domestic law enforcement divisions of the DOJ with which he had already become familiar. (See an amusing exchange about this in a fascinating interview with Mueller, beginning at 6:45, and especially at 8:45, explaining that all his past experience had been as a prosecutor, not in national security investigations.) So Mueller, of all people, would have immediately understood what his primary responsibility was when he accepted Rod Rosenstein’s appointment on 17 May 2017 as Special Counsel.
The Rosenstein order charged Mueller with ensuring
“…a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election, … including any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump….If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of those matters.”
The order makes it perfectly clear that Mueller’s was not intended to be, at least in the first instance, a criminal investigation. It would therefore be a mistake to expect the MUELLER REPORT to be a report of criminal findings and indictments — although Mueller was certainly given a remit to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation if he believed that this was “necessary and appropriate.”
Now the question arises: in what circumstances might Mueller have decided that it was “necessary and appropriate” to prosecute federal crimes that he had uncovered in his investigation? In particular, when would Mueller have deemed the prosecution of crimes involving “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to be “necessary and appropriate” in the course of his counterintelligence investigation?
Since it was in the first instance a counterintelligence investigation, the answer is reasonably clear: the Special Counsel indicts when he believes that the indictment is “necessary or appropriate” to assisting the investigation and only then — because getting indictments and convictions is not the primary purpose of a national intelligence or counterintel investigation. The purpose of that kind of investigation is simply to find out what happened. In particular, the only justifiable purpose for an indictment as part of the investigation is to flip a witness; and it is clear that this is exactly how Mueller has proceeded.
In the 1950s there was a popular TV program called “Dragnet,” in which Sergeant Joe Friday made the phrase “Just the facts, ma’am” famous. It is like that. Mueller’s job was to get the facts, and grand juries and indictments were only a means to be used as a tool when “necessary and appropriate” to get those facts.
Since Mueller was interested in chasing down facts, it was intended all along that once he had handed over the results of his investigation (the facts), career prosecutors in the DOJ would then have the responsibility of deciding whether any of those facts justified prosecutions.
Once this is understood, it is easy to see that nothing can be inferred from the fact that Mueller has obtained few indictments, and that none of the indictments that have been returned have involved campaign collusion.
Let’s consider some particular examples.
Make no mistake: the Mueller investigation from the very beginning has been all about Trump. Campaign associates like Manafort, Page, Papadopoulos, Flynn and others have been targets of the investigation (all four in fact have been indicted), but in the last month particularly it has become clear that Rosenstein, in consultation with others in the FBI and DOJ, authorized the Mueller investigation to answer the question: Did Trump coordinate his campaign with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the U.S. election on his behalf, and even more pointedly: Was the President of the United States as of May 2017 a Russian asset or agent?
It is clear that we can’t conclude from the fact that Trump hasn’t been indicted that Mueller’s answer to the presenting question is No. That is because, according to existing DOJ guidelines, a sitting president cannot be indicted. (He can be indicted after he or she is out of office.) And while some legal experts and constitutional scholars have questioned the correctness of the DOJ guidelines, it is virtually certain that Mueller will not depart from them.
Though Mueller (and Attorney General Barr) are almost certain to follow the rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted, a sitting president can certainly be impeached, and the threat of impeachment is what Trump has to fear from the MUELLER REPORT.
Even if he has found grounds for impeachment, however, Mueller is not going to be rendering a verdict that he should be impeached. It certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for him to say in his report that he believes Trump deserves it. What he certainly can do, however, is deliver to Congress a report that will justify, and even compel, impeachment and removal from office.
There is a precedent here in what Congress did during Watergate. The Senate did not remove Nixon from office (in fact the House didn’t even impeach him); but Congress did pursue Watergate to the point where Nixon was forced to resign. And as Watergate showed, a report can be totally damning even if it doesn’t render a single verdict. As Sam Ervin, who was in charge of the Senate hearings on Watergate, said famously about the investigations:
“Some people draw a picture of a horse and then write ‘horse’ under it. We just drew the horse.”
Expect the MUELLER REPORT to do the same about Trump.
Manafort provides a very clear example of how Mueller has used the grand jury and indictments as part of his national security investigation: to advance the investigation, rather than as a goal in itself. As Manafort (through his attorneys) and the White House have pointed out repeatedly, none of Manafort’s indictments have involved charges of campaign collusion. In fact, the Manafort indictments were for offenses that did not even occur during the time when he was chairman of the Trump campaign.
Judge Ellis of the EDVA said to Michael Dreeben, a lead attorney on the Mueller team, during a court hearing: “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud.” Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort only because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment.” This statement, though extraordinary for the judge to say in open court, was so obviously true that, so far as I know, Dreeben didn’t even try to dispute it.
Again, it is important to realize that one cannot infer from the fact that Manafort hasn’t been indicted for collusion that Mueller hasn’t found evidence for collusion. Such an inference would be unwarranted because indictments have never been Mueller’s primary purpose in the investigation.
Unless it furthers the fact-finding purposes of an investigation, prosecution is not what an investigator does. It is what a prosecutor does.
So far no member of Trump’s family has been indicted, including Don Jr., even though Don Jr (according to all reliable reporting) lied his a** off behind closed doors in Congressional hearings. Nor has Don Jr. been questioned by Team Mueller, which legal experts say is ominous for him, as it is a sign that he is a target. And Michael Cohen is going to prison for three years for lying to Congress about much less. So it is inconceivable that Don Jr. will not be indicted sometime by someone.
Don Jr, in fact, provides perhaps the hardest case to explain for those who claim that the MUELLER REPORT will be a big nothingburger, on the grounds that there have been no indictments by Mueller for campaign related offenses (apart from lying and obstruction of justice charges). On the other hand, the theory about the Mueller investigation and the MUELLER REPORT that I have been presenting here makes perfectly good sense of all the known facts about Don Jr.
Part of the explanation, surely, lies in the fact that indicting a Trump family member will be politically explosive when it happens. As Omarosa said recently, there is a “big red line” for Trump when it comes to his children. That makes it unlikely that Mueller will unload on a Trump family member before he’s laid waste to Trump himself, and that in turn makes it likely that Mueller has decided to go nuclear on Don Jr only after or at the same time as he goes nuclear with his report.
Indeed, it would be particularly strategic to indict Don Jr after or at the same time that the report has been released, because we know that Mueller was asked to focus on the campaign, and some of the lies Don Jr told Congress had to do with the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower. We also know that Trump dictated those lies to him from Air Force One on the way back from the conference he had attended in Hamburg.
Since Mueller will be focusing on the campaign in his report, it would make perfectly good strategic sense for the DOJ to indict Don Jr after, rather than before, the MUELLER REPORT has been issued.
The distinct political advantages of passing the ball from an investigative team to the career prosecutors in the DOJ and FBI.
The advantages of separating an investigation of Trump-Russia from the prosecutorial phase are particularly clear in the case of a Trump family member like Don Jr.
Mueller and the DOJ knew that investigation of the Trump campaign — and therefore of Trump himself (after all, it was his campaign!) — was going to be sensitive and potentially explosive. And unfortunately, Trump has been alarmingly successful, at least so far as his base is concerned, at vilifying the Mueller probe as a biased witch hunt.
On 13 Feb 2019, FiveThirtyEight published the following graph showing that public opinion about Mueller has become much more partisan since Mueller was appointed in May of 2017:
However, Trump’s incessant tweeting and Fox News propaganda against the DOJ’s investigation will be weakened considerably once Mueller hands his report over to Barr.
For Trump, first it was the Comey witch hunt. Then, after Trump fired Comey, it became the Mueller witch hunt. What is it going to be called after Mueller hands over his report to Attorney General Bill Barr, and Barr announces the indictments of Don Jr. and others? The Barr Witch Hunt? Barr wasn’t even on the scene when the Mueller probe was started. In fact, in the early days of the Mueller investigation, Barr even sent an unsolicited memo to the Department of Justice criticizing the Mueller probe as “legally insupportable.” Barr also wrote a 2017 op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that Trump made the “right call” in firing Comey.
All of this was deeply concerning, of course, to many who wanted to protect Mueller, but I did not then and do not now see any reason for alarm here. In his nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr said that he and Mueller were good friends, and Rod Rosenstein, who had reason to be concerned if anyone did, appears to have been elated by Barr’s nomination and appointment. And as Rosenstein pointed out at the time, Barr’s criticism of the Mueller probe was made when Barr didn’t know “what we knew.”
I do not mean to suggest that all this was foreseen by the Department. But Rosenstein and others probably did not expect the full extent of the demagogic venom that Trump and his minions have directed at the investigation, and they probably are gratified that the Department has some protection now that the report is on its way because the investigation is, and always has been, separated from the prosecution.
A Washington Post article on Feb 22 was the first in the MSM to report that Mueller regarded himself as an investigator, not a prosecutor; but the article was wrong to imply that this signaled the end of all the government’s indictments
In an article it published on Feb 22, the Washington Post reported (based, it said, on sources inside the DOJ) that Mueller seemed to wrapping up his investigation. The article also described the Mueller investigation this way:
“Mueller has envisioned it as an investigative assignment, not necessarily a prosecutorial one.”
My reaction at the time was: “Wow! Imagine that! Who could have guessed! Mueller has actually conducted the kind of investigation he was directed and authorized to do by the Rosenstein order of 17 May 2017!”
But the article then went on to say:
“…and for that reason does not plan to keep the office running to see to the end all of the indictments it has filed.”
Although the article did not explicitly exclude the possibility that the Department might make other campaign related indictments after the shuttering of the Mueller probe, the implication was that there would no further indictments for campaign related offenses. (That is certainly the way the article was read by those closely following the Trump-Russia story.) But as I have been arguing at some length here, the claim that we have seen the end of all the government’s indictments (even if we haven’t seen their outcome yet) is surely mistaken.
One way or another, Congress and the public will get in full the findings of the Mueller investigation (minus necessary redactions to protect sources and methods)
Mueller is required by the DOJ’s regulations governing the office of a special counsel to write a confidential report that will go first to Attorney General Bill Barr, who then must decide what to do with it.
Many pundits have claimed that the Department rules and guidelines preclude Barr from providing Congress and the public with anything like a full report of the Mueller investigation, but this is mistaken.
It has been claimed for example, that Department rules and regulations, which are designed to protect the privacy of the innocent, bar the Department from publishing any “derogatory” information about uncharged individuals. If true, this means that the Department is faced with a choice. Either it must indict an individual who has been investigated — in which case the findings will be incorporated in court charging documents — or say nothing at all. But in fact the rules and guidelines, as well as Department precedents, do not rule out presenting “derogatory” information about uncharged individuals.
This point was made forcefully by former FBI Director James Comey in an op-ed in the Washington Post that was published on March 4 (“Transparency is possible in the Mueller investigation”):
“Providing detailed information about a completed investigation of intense public interest has long been a part of Justice Department practice. It doesn’t happen often, because ordinarily nothing outweighs the privacy interests of the subject of an investigation that ends without public charges. But department tradition recognizes that transparency is especially important where polarized politics and baseless attacks challenge law enforcement’s credibility. In critical matters of national importance, a straightforward report of what facts have been learned and how judgment has been exercised may be the only way to advance the public interest.”
Comey cited several precedents:
(1) He pointed out that the DOJ shared detailed information with the public after the FBI’s investigation of the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A great deal of “derogatory” information about the Ferguson, Mo police department was reported from that investigation, even though no criminal charges were filed. A second Department report on the broader police practices in the Ferguson department was especially scathing.
(2) Comey also cited the DOJ’s investigation, which was reported by the Department in October 2015, that responded to Republican claims that the IRS was illegally targeting tea party groups because of their political beliefs. The Department provided Congress with a public report that “laid out the investigation, the evidence, and legal assessment.” The report admonished IRS supervisor Lois Lerner for “poor judgment” and “ineffective management,” but the report concluded that the mistakes did not warrant criminal prosecution.
(3) Comey also cited the José Padilla case. In 2004, during the George W. Bush administration, the public needed to know more about an American citizen captured in the United States and held by presidential order as an enemy combatant in a Navy brig, because, as Comey put it, this was a “breathtaking exercise of presidential power” that “generated intense and legitimate concern across the political spectrum.”
The report on Padilla and on the presidential order disclosed “an extraordinary amount of information in an uncharged case,” but Comey released the report after being assured by the department’s career lawyers that the reporting was “consistent with law, policy and department tradition.”
(4) The most apposite case that Comey cited was the Clinton email case. It was also the most controversial case for him to have cited, because Comey is almost alone these days in thinking that his handling of that case was appropriate.
The FBI’s handling of the Clinton emails is a very complicated issue, and I cannot discuss it here in detail. Suffice it to say that it is clear to virtually all unbiased observers that the government should have treated the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton email matter and the DOJ’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the election (which favored Trump) in the same way: either publicly disclose both investigations or neither. But it did not do this. Comey, as the Director of the FBI but speaking for the DOJ itself, reported on the investigations of the Clinton emails, but did not report to the public the investigation of Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign (mainly because Senator Mitch McConnell objected to it).
In any case, the question of how much Barr should disclose from the MUELLER REPORT, or whether he should disclose anything at all, differs in a very significant way from the Clinton email question. The DOJ had to make a decision about whether to disclose its investigation of the Clinton emails in October of 2016, on the eve of the election. The MUELLER REPORT, which appears to be imminent, presents no such quandaries and difficulties. There is no question here of an “October surprise.” We’re past the midterms, and a whole year away from 2020’s Super Tuesday.
Was the Muller investigation illegitimate at its origins?
Devin Nunes, who now favors complete transparency about everything connected with the investigation (and not just the report), has long held that the entire Mueller investigation was inappropriate and in fact illegitimate, because it was an investigation of a political campaign and political party. Now that the damage has been done, in his opinion, and the probe appears to be nearing its completion, he has urged complete transparency about the Mueller investigation and report. Nevertheless, Nunes continues to maintain that the investigation was illegitimate at its origins.
Nunes, of course, took a totally different position about the Clinton emails, and I would gladly ignore Nunes completely given that he has been blatantly inconsistent on this question, except that his statements do raise an interesting and important issue about the privacy rights of individuals who are investigated by the government: namely, that the DOJ rules and guidelines, and in fact constitutional protections more generally, apply to ordinary private citizens in a much stricter way than they do to politicians and other public figures.
We should all be grateful that we live in a country where ordinary Joes and Janes like you and me have strong privacy rights and protections. However, politicians, who are very public figures, have privacy rights and protections that are more limited than ordinary, private citizens. Libel laws are one example.
Consider, then, the Department’s Trump-Russia investigation. Although law enforcement must have a very good reason to investigate a political candidate or his party, it certainly is not barred from doing so. The Department believed it had a sufficiently good reason to investigate the Trump campaign when it launched Comey’s investigation (called Crossfire Hurricane), and then later, the Mueller special counsel investigation.
It is clear from what we have learned recently that the Department believed that Donald Trump, first as the presidential candidate of one of the two major U.S. political parties and then later as president, might be a Russian asset — or even more ominously, possibly a Russian agent. This guaranteed that the investigation would be controversial, and Mueller will have to explain clearly in his report why the Department was justified in conducting such an investigation (assuming that it was). However, it is ludicrous to argue, as Nunes and others have, that it was illegitimate for the DOJ to have undertaken such an investigation, regardless of whether the facts will turn out to have justified it. In fact, it is precisely when a presidential candidate is close to winning the highest office in the land, and then later actually gets elected president, that an investigation like the Mueller investigation is most exigent.
Note also that Nunes’ efforts to apply to investigations of political parties and campaigns the fruit of the poisoned tree doctrine (a legal doctrine that makes evidence inadmissible in court if it was derived from evidence that was illegally obtained) has the following absurd consequence: that once a person secures the nomination of a major U.S. political party, he or she is protected from any law enforcement investigation. This remains true even in the event that he or she wins the election and becomes president.
The Nunes rule, if one can call it that, would presumably not cover any ordinary crime, like murder or tax evasion, for which an ordinary citizen could be investigated and indicted. But the Nunes rule would clearly mean that a candidate could do anything, however threatening or damaging, to our national security without having anything to fear from law enforcement officials in the DOJ, one division of which is charged by statute with the responsibility of protecting American elections from interference by foreign states and other actors.
This point is a general one, and isn’t limited to the question of whether crimes were committed. Take, for example, the matter of the termination date of the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Michael Cohen has been sentenced to a three-year prison term because he lied to Congress about the termination date of the Trump Tower Moscow project. One of the things we can expect (or at least hope) to learn from the MUELLER REPORT is whether Mueller has found evidence that Trump knew that Cohen was going to perjure himself before Congress about the termination date of the project, and whether Trump even encouraged or “directed” Cohen to lie to Congress about it, perhaps signalling that he wanted him to do so using coded language, mobster-style.
Perjury is a crime, and engaging in a conspiracy to encourage perjury is a crime, but it would not in itself be a crime for Trump to have encouraged Michael Cohen to continue negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the campaign. It would not even be criminal for Trump to lie to the American voter about the termination date of the project. (Trump did implicitly lie to voters about the project, because he never publicly repudiated the January 2016 termination date that he knew Cohen had given in his Congressional testimony, even though he knew that Cohen had given false testimony.) In any case, Trump’s (implicit) lying constituted a national security issue, because the lying gave leverage to the Kremlin that it could have used against him, even if it didn’t.
As a national security issue, Donald J. Trump’s lying about the termination date of the Trump Tower Moscow project during the campaign and even after his election and inauguration is on the same footing as the lies Michael Flynn told in December of 2017, when he denied that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Flynn’s lies were a national security issue, and led to his questioning under oath by the FBI, which as part of its very standard electronic surveillance, had intercepted the phone conversations. (Flynn lied to the FBI about them; one thing led to another, and eventually Flynn was dismissed by Trump as his National Security Advisor.) Since Trump’s lying about the termination date of the Trump Tower Moscow project constituted a similar national security threat, Mueller will surely include an account of the Trump Tower Moscow project and Trump’s acceptance — and perhaps even encouragement or “direction” — of Cohen’s lying about the termination date of the project in his official report, making it part of the official national records.
There is no reason to think that either Mueller or Barr wants the MUELLER REPORT to be withheld from Congress and the public, but could it be withheld by Barr even if he wanted to? Consider the case of Carter Page.
The full title of the Washington Post op-ed by James Comey that I discussed above was: “James Comey: Republicans are wrong. Transparency is possible in the Mueller investigation.” In fact, it turns out that many Republicans — perhaps even most Republican leaders now — do want the Department to publish the full MUELLER REPORT.
In a breakout session at the 2019 CPAC conference, for example, Byron York (Washington Examiner columnist and Fox News contributor), Tom Fitton (Judicial Watch), and Devin Nunes all said that they wanted such transparency. (Nunes and Fitton even complained that it was the White House that had blocked their attempt to make Congressional hearing transcripts and other important documents available to the public.)
In recent disagreements between the DOJ and Congress over Congressional document requests, Congress, sooner or later, has prevailed. This has happened even when the document requests were not bipartisan. This makes it even more likely that Barr would be unable to refuse Congress’ request to turn over the complete report even if he wanted to, because increasingly, both Democrats and Republicans are calling for the release of the full report.
Carter Page provides an interesting test case. Page has always been a key figure in the Trump-Russia story. He is mentioned as an important figure in the Steele dossier, and Republicans have long sought to know why the FISA court granted the initial warrant to surveil Page and then renewed it three times. They continue to suspect the worst of the Department about this warrant (despite the fact that one of the FISA judges, who was appointed to the court by Chief Justice John Roberts, has vigorously defended the court’s issuance of the warrants against Page).
Mueller is almost certain to address these FISA warrants in his report, given that he was charged with the responsibility to investigate
“…any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump…”
There is no question that Carter Page had such “links” — or “ties” or “contacts,” however one might want to describe them. Page has even acknowledged that he had such contacts during two trips he made to Moscow, one in July during the campaign, and one in December of 2016, after Trump had been elected President. And even the House Intel Committee, when it was controlled by the Republican majority, was dissatisfied with Page’s testimony about those trips and his contacts there, and questioned whether he had truthfully testified to the committee about them.
Page’s trips to Moscow were undoubtedly of great interest to Mueller as well, and both Democrats and Republicans will want to know — indeed will demand to know — what he found out about them, if anything. That is true even though Democrats and Republicans will want to know about any findings for quite different reasons and with quite different expectations: the Democrats in the hopes, and with the expectation, that it will make the Trump campaign look bad, and many Republicans (with much less sense) in the hopes, and with the expectation, that it will reveal that the DOJ, the FBI, and the FISA court are part of a lawless deep state that acted illegitimately to take Trump down. And both political parties will want to know what Mueller was able to find (if anything) regardless of whether he uncovered any CRIMES.
Both Barr and Mueller have lived and worked for decades in Washington, and are thoroughly familiar with its ways, both legal and political. They surely understand that this is the kind of question that they are not going to be able to deflect, even if they wanted to (and as I’ve said, I don’t even see any reason to think that they do want to).
Note, however, how consequential the full disclosure of l’affaire Carter Page will be. After all, Page was only one of a multitude of links, ties, or contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, and all of these contacts have raised questions.
Here’s what the Moscow Project has to say about this (as of 27 Feb 2019):
“ … we have learned of 102 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives, including at least 28 meetings. And we know that at least 28 high-ranking campaign officials and Trump advisors were aware of contacts with Russia-linked operatives during the campaign and transition. None of these contacts were ever reported to the proper authorities. Instead, the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.”
The problem, then, is that Mueller and Barr could not disclose what the investigation had learned about Carter Page’s questionable contacts with Russians without treating all the other members of the campaign who had such contacts in the same way.
For example, the Steele dossier alleges (in memo #095) that in late July of 2016 Paul Manafort was using Carter Page as an intermediary in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” between the Trump campaign and Russia, but Page has denied this. So what are we to believe? This is exactly the kind of question that Mueller was hired to investigate as well as he could — and he has likely found the answer, or at least come a lot closer to it than anyone else. Congress and the American public have the right to know how far Mueller carried the investigation into these questions and what he found, if anything.
And what about Trump? If Manafort did collude with the Russians, did he tell Trump about it? Did Don Jr know? Etc. etc.
Once one gets started on something like this, there is no logical place to stop. One just has to keep on going until one reaches the end. As the old nursery rhyme “Dem Bones” has it:
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Now hear the word of the Lord.
To discharge his responsibilities under the Rosenstein order of 17 May 2017, then, Mueller will have no choice but to provide a narrative that provides a pretty fulsome description of the Trump campaign and its “links” with the Russian government. (To be fair, Mueller will also be obligated to include in his narrative any exculpatory findings as well.)
HOW DAMAGING IS THE REPORT GOING TO BE?
Finally, we come to the question: how damaging is the MUELLER REPORT likely to be? In particular, how damaging will it be for Trump?
The Mueller investigation, as has become crystal clear in recent weeks, was always about Trump — and it is Trump, more than anyone else in the campaign, who is the main subject of interest for Congress and the general public. So then: Does Mueller have enough evidence to take down Trump and the Trump Administration?
I myself am sure that he does. In fact, I am sure I could write a MUELLER REPORT myself just on the basis of what is already available in the public record that would burn the House of Trump right down to the ground if it were published as the official government report on the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the election. (Lots of people could.) And I don’t know a fraction of what Mueller knows. (No one does.)
Those who believe that the MUELLER REPORT will be a big nothingburger are dreaming.
To know what to expect from the MUELLER REPORT, one needs to do two things.
First, one needs to be very clear about what Mueller was expected to do in his investigation and report, as well as what he was not expected to do. Rosenstein’s order is a model of clarity and concision here, and set out the parameters and purpose of the investigation very clearly.
Second, one must try to put together in one’s mind all that we already know from the public record about the many ways that Trump and his campaign threatened our national security — and then multiply that by a factor of maybe 3 or 4 (to be conservative).
Putting it all together in one’s mind in this way is hard to do because there is so much of it. That is why the exercise will give you some idea of just how damaging the MUELLER REPORT will be — and what to expect about the indictments and the impeachment proceedings in Congress that will inevitably ensue from it.
Anyone who thinks the MUELLER REPORT won’t be devastating hasn’t been paying attention.