Let’s be clear on what the Mueller report reportedly says and doesn’t say about President Trump’s relationship to Russia.
Hint: Although there were no new legal charges, the president was not, as he claims, “completely exonerated.”
Robert Mueller found no smoking gun to prove that Trump or his campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” Yet the four-page summary put forward by U.S. Attorney General William Barr effectively makes clear why this investigation was so necessary — and rebuffs the president’s claims that it was an ”illegal takedown.”
Here are my four takeaways from the summary of the Russian conclusions in the Mueller report.
No formal collusion, but still a series of strange and suspicious dealings with Russia by senior Trump campaign officials.
All have been well-documented outside the Mueller investigation.
The special counsel found insufficient evidence conspiracy, according to the strict standards of criminal law, which demand proof of an “agreement — tacit or express — between members of the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” In other words, there would have had to be concrete evidence that the Trump team and Russians actually plotted together.
That does not mean an absence of extremely questionable behavior. The Russia-related activities of campaign chief Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn, Donald Jr., and others aides — which included suspicious meetings with Russians and possible Kremlin cutouts even before the Trump nomination — were more than enough to provoke legitimate concerns by the FBI. (And let’s not forget that Trump himself triggered the Mueller investigation by firing FBI chief James Comey whom he criticized for the FBI investigation of Russian meddling).
The investigation was anything but a “witch hunt” as Mueller proves with his details of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller reminds us that “that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election:” the first, a Russian disinformation campaign via social media and the second, a series of computer hacking operations. It further reminds us that Special Counsel Mueller “brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.”
Yet, despite all the evidence, Donald Trump has repeatedly and consistently rejected the charge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He does so despite the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies to the contrary. Most infamously, at the July 2018 Helsinki summit he stood next to Vladimir Putin and insisted he believed the Russian leader’s denials over his U.S. intelligence chiefs. So much for America First.
Trump continues to help the Kremlin.
The president’s obsequious behavior towards Putin is the gift that keeps giving to Moscow. From asking Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s missing emails (at a time when Moscow was handing hacked emails to WikiLeaks) to his constant flattery of Putin, Trump has shown a bizarre affinity for the Russian leader.
I’ve argued that such behavior is more likely the result of Trump’s overt fondness for, and perhaps envy of autocrats who don’t need to deal with the messy processes of democracy. He shows the same fondness for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, China’s Xi Jinping and other authoritarian rulers. But whatever the cause of Trump’s coddling of Putin, it undermines U.S. interests.
By attacking U.S. intelligence agencies and our NATO military alliance and by dissing the European Union and leaders of America’s close allied nations, the president plays into Putin’s plans to undercut Western democracies. Equally important, by refusing to coordinate an all-of-government response to Russian cyberespionage — led from the White House — Trump leaves the door open to more interference. This has deeply disturbed top U.S. security officials.
The Soviets used to call unwitting collaborators “useful idiots.” That may not equate with overt collusion but the term certainly fits Trump’s behavior.
Trump owes Mueller an apology, and owes the U.S. public the full release of the Mueller report.
The special counsel’s handling of the report (with no leaks) and his rigorous conclusions speak to the highest standards of professionalism. Neither he nor his team deserved the constant litany of insults delivered by the president.
Given Mueller’s findings on Russian interference (and his decision not to make a recommendation on whether Trump obstructed justice) the public deserves a full look at how he reached his conclusions.