It is a question that has been asked time after time over the past two years: Did President Donald Trump or members of his 2016 campaign team collude or conspire with the Russian government to influence a presidential election? On Sunday, March 24, the world was informed of Robert Mueller’s answer – and the answer is no. According to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the special counsel’s report:
“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
There were two further questions to which Mueller was charged with discovering the answers. Did the Russians interfere – or attempt to interfere – with the political process in the U.S., specifically with respect to the 2016 election? The final big question for the special counsel was whether the president himself obstructed justice during the course of the Russia investigation.
Was there Russian Collusion?
Mueller’s investigation found that Russian efforts to influence American politics took the form of a social media disinformation campaign and the hacking of computers maintained by members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
According to Barr, “The special counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” The final clause of the above quote is of great importance since it points out that, even in the face of offers from the Russians, the Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with them.
Worthy of note is the absence of the word “collusion.” Though constantly used by the media and generally adopted by the public to describe the alleged links between Trump associates and the Russians, “collusion” is not a crime and has no legal definition. The special counsel was, in fact, looking for conspiracy and found none.
Mueller Defers to DOJ on Obstruction Question
Trump’s foes had cited the firing of then-FBI Director James Comey as evidence of obstruction of justice. Some had even gone as far as to point to the president’s constant criticism of the investigation, which he branded a “witch hunt,” as evidence of obstruction.
On the matter, the AG’s summary quotes the Mueller report as concluding that, “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it does not exonerate him.” Mueller has deferred to the Justice Department. Clearly, his investigation produced nothing that compelled him to directly accuse the president of obstructing justice. Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had consulted with the special counsel’s office and decided “that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
The Justice Department has long maintained that a sitting president cannot be criminally indicted and it has been speculated that this rule alone would protect Trump from an indictment on obstruction of justice. In his summary, the attorney general states: “Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.”
A Political Travesty of Massive Proportion
As Barr lays out in this four-page summary letter, Robert Mueller’s team comprised 19 attorneys assisted by a team of around 40 FBI agents, forensic accountants, intelligence analysts, and other personnel. More than 2,800 subpoenas were issued and almost 500 search warrants executed. Approximately 500 witnesses were interviewed and 13 requests for evidence were made to foreign governments. Hundreds of orders for communications records were obtained and, in all, the special counsel’s office must have taken possession of, and studied, tens of thousands of documents.
Including the FBI’s in-house investigation, which stretched over many months prior to Mueller’s appointment, the Russia investigation has taken well over two years and cost tens of thousands of dollars – at the least. It has divided America perhaps more than any other political event since the fight to pass the Civil Rights Act, which at least had a legitimate legislative and constitutional purpose.
Finally, the president has been vindicated in all matters relating to this investigation. As Trump himself has frequently said and tweeted: No collusion, no obstruction. No American should be in any doubt that March 24, 2019, was one of the most significant dates in American history. Trump’s opponents had already determined to continue their partisan campaign to destroy him, and the delivery of the final Mueller report heralds a period of recrimination and further investigation that may end many political careers, though not the president’s. The dispelling of the Russia collusion story will reverberate through the political establishment and the public consciousness for decades to come.