Political analysts, politicians, and pundits are hard at work dissecting the final report from special counsel Robert Mueller. Depending on one’s political alignment, this report is either an exoneration of President Donald Trump or it is a treasure-trove of detailed information that exposes his corrupt intentions. It may be both of those things – in part – or it may be neither, but its true nature is, without a doubt, entirely misunderstood, or, at least, misrepresented by most people.
Robert Mueller had three principle objectives: To determine whether Russia interfered in the political system of the United States with the intent of influencing the 2016 election, to determine whether Trump himself or members of his campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia in that effort, and to examine whether the president’s actions constituted obstruction of justice, with regard to the Russia investigation itself.
Certainly, the special counsel achieved those objectives and his conclusions, as laid out in this report, address each of those main issues. It is worth applying a little perspective to the report itself, however, and to the nature of the investigation itself.
The Death of the Collusion Myth
It is worth beginning, though, with what has become the most overused word in the English language: “collusion.” This word describes a concept rather than a criminal action, and it was used specifically for it’s vagueness. It was so easy for the president’s political opponents to accuse him of “colluding” with Russia because the word itself is both ambiguous and subjective and none of Trump’s accusers was ever called upon to define “collusion.”
The report deals with this problem on page two: “But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.” The report goes on to explain that the special counsel’s focus was on conspiracy and “coordination.”
“We understood coordination to require an agreement – tacit or express – between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. That requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”
In other words: Two parties may have the same goal and they may feed off each other’s progress toward that goal but unless they have a mutual agreement to work together toward achieving it, they are not “coordinating” – or conspiring.
After 22 months of investigating – not to mention the 10 months of FBI investigation that went before it – Mueller’s team found that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election “in a sweeping and systematic fashion.” The special counsel also concluded that no member’s of Trump’s 2016 campaign team coordinated with Russia in its election interference activities.
Had the Trump campaign been coordinating with the Russians prior to the 2016 election, this statement, from page 144 of the Mueller report, would make no sense:
“As soon as news broke that Trump had been elected president, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new Administration. They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the President-Elect.”
Obstruction is the New Collusion
Now that the collusion theory is dead and buried, Trump’s detractors have pivoted to obstruction of justice, upon which a large portion of the Mueller report dwells. From page two of volume II of the report, which deals with the obstruction question:
“ … if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state … the evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
It should be noted, here, that Mueller’s team was essentially functioning as prosecutors, and prosecutors do not exonerate. In several ways, Mueller sought to bend the normal rules and protocols of criminal investigation and of the justice system itself and this was a prime example. His refusal to exonerate the president means little – except to open the door for Democrats to persue the matter.
Obviously, the special counsel was unable to conclude that anything the president said or did met the legal standard of obstruction. Nevertheless, he catalogues all of Trump’s actions and statements that could be interpreted as obstruction, then stops short of concluding that any federal law had been broken. This amounts to nothing less than an act of sabotage against Trump; Mueller lacked the courage to make a final decision but does his best to lay out the case for obstruction, knowing full well that the American people would get to see his report.
The National Disgrace of Political Investigation
That, indeed, is the nature of Robert Mueller and his entire report: Given that no conspiracy or coordination with the Russians was discovered and given that Mueller declined to assert criminal obstruction of justice, this report did not need to be hundreds of pages long. It is as if a prosecutor, having investigated an alleged bank robber, concludes that the suspect did not rob the bank but then this prosecutor publishes a lengthy tome, detailing all the reprehensible or suspicious things the suspect had ever done. That is not how the justice system is supposed to work.
The truth is that when one resists being investigated for a crime one did not commit, that is not obstruction of justice. Mueller knows very well that he couldn’t put together an obstruction case against the president that would have held up in court – but he decided to put the fire out with gasoline.
What has been misunderstood or misrepresented – by so many – about this investigation and this report? That can be explained by a list of “should never have happened” statements. Beginning with the most recent and working backwards in time: The Mueller report should never have been made public. Since it was always destined to be publicized, every concerned American should read it, but it need not have ever been made public. On receiving the report, Attorney General Barr should have provided its conclusions to Congress and invited lawmakers to read the report if they wished.
The special counsel should never have been appointed and the FBI should never have targeted the Trump campaign with a counterintelligence investigation. Finally, the FBI should never have withheld from then-candidate Trump its concerns about Russian election meddling.
In the most simple and brutally honest terms, this entire affair has been a damning indictment of the state of the American political class and the politcization of federal government agencies. It is a national disgrace that an investigation can be opened on a presidential candidate – based on little more than heresay and vague suspicion and almost certainly politically motived – and then dragged out for more than two years, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. The only thing that should now be investigated is why and how it was allowed to happen.