So I’ve finally been able to read the entire Mueller Report. I actually read Volume II, which dealt with allegations surrounding Trump and obstruction of justice, first—then read the rest of Volume I, which dealt with Russian hacking and the Trump Campaign’s involvement. You can read my first assessment from a post I wrote last week. Here are some final thoughts and major takeaways, now that I’ve read the entire report.
I’ve always felt that Manafort was the critical piece in Mueller’s attempt to see what links the Trump Campaign had, if any, to the Russians. He served as campaign chairman for Trump for only about four months, but during his tenure, many of the significant instances of Russian interference was taking place.
For one, he was at the infamous Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, along with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner. They thought they were going to get dirt on Hillary and were more than happy to accept that dirt. Besides, some of the releases of the hacked emails also occurred during his time with the campaign. And of course, this was also the time when Trump publicly asked for the Russians to find the 30,000 emails missing from Hillary’s private server.
But for me, the most suspicious and damning piece of evidence was the fact that Manafort had given private internal Trump Campaign polling data to a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik, someone that the FBI assessed had ties to Russian intelligence. Mueller’s office had determined those assessments were correct. Manafort, for his part, did not think Kilimnik was a “spy,” but his long-time partner and Deputy Campaign Chairman for Trump, Rick Gates, did.
Manafort’s reasons for giving away the polling data is not clear. Gates speculated that he did it to avoid a lawsuit that was being brought against him by a Ukrainian oligarch. Whatever his reason for doing so, the fact that he gave private internal polling information to a man with ties to Russian intelligence is beyond disturbing. And, that information just so happened to contain data from the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Trump won three of those states and nearly upset Hillary in Minnesota. Coincidence?
The fact is though, Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to indict Manafort on any coordination or conspiracy charges as it related to his work for the Trump Campaign. As pointed out in my earlier post, Mueller could not rule out that lying, misleading, and deleting of information could have played a part in his office’s inability to connect the dots.
Based on the fact that Manafort was charged with several other crimes unrelated to his campaign activity, tells me that Mueller had hoped Manafort would cooperate in the end. When he was convicted in a Virginia Court of most of those crimes, Manafort pled guilty in the D.C. Court to additional crimes and eventually signed a plea agreement. But it was short-lived. He repeatedly lied during this, and Mueller withdrew the deal.
Once it became apparent that Manafort was not going to talk, it seems as though the handwriting was on the wall. The one guy who probably knew where ‘all the bodies were buried’ decided it wasn’t worth cooperating. Certainly, pardons being dangled by the Trump team could have played a part here. We still don’t know. Will Trump pardon him? Stay tuned.
One of the major mysteries of all of this is why Donald Trump Jr. was not indicted by Mueller and his team. After all, he was the one who received the email stating that the Russians had dirt on Hillary and was enthusiastic about using it, if true. He was also very much in contact with WikiLeaks during this period and knew that information they possessed was from data hacked by the Russians.
But Mueller lays out his reasoning in the report as to why he didn’t indict Don Jr.–in detail. He looked at basically two areas of the law: Conspiracy or Coordination … and Campaign-Finance. In both cases, they found that nobody in the campaign, including Don Jr. was found to have violated these laws.
The report states: “The investigation did not establish that the contacts described in Volume I, amounted to an agreement to commit any substantive violation of federal law—including foreign-influence and campaign-finance laws. The Office, therefore, did not charge any individual associated with the Trump Campaign with conspiracy to commit a federal offense arising from Russia contacts, either under a specific statute or under Section 371’s offenses clause.” (Page 181-Volume I)
Since I’m not a lawyer, I’m not going to engage in all of the legal reasoning Mueller used in justifying his non-charging Don Jr. as it relates to the campaign-finance portion. In essence, it came down to proving beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the proposed dirt he was ready to accept on Hillary was a ‘thing of value element.’ In other words, did the dirt he was going to receive rise to the level of what would be considered a ‘contribution’ under the law. And the other element was whether he ‘willfully and knowingly’ acted in a manner that would show he had general knowledge that his conduct was unlawful. More on this shortly.
Hacking of the electoral process
If there’s anything in Mueller’s Report that raises my blood pressure more than anything else, it’s the fact that the Russians were able to infiltrate and target individuals and entities involved in the administration of the elections. That’s right, our electoral process itself. It’s not something we hear about often when it comes to what happened in the 2016 election, but if nothing else, this is a full-fledged warning to state, local, and the federal government that we better get serious … super serious about 2020:
“In addition to targeting individuals involved in the Clinton Campaign, GRU officers also targeted individuals and entities involved in the administration of the elections. Victims included U.S. State and local entities, such as state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and county governments, as well as individuals who worked for those entities. The GRU also targeted private technology firms responsible for manufacturing and administering election-related software and hardware, such as voter registration software and electronic polling stations.” (Page 50-Volume I)
Mueller states that his office did not investigate this issue any further, indicating that the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the states have separate investigations ongoing. We don’t hear much about that though. And frankly, do we really know that no votes were changed in 2016? Do we know without a doubt that voting rolls weren’t altered?
All of Congress and the President of the United States ought to be working together as we speak to address this disturbing development. They are not. Frankly, the President himself has rarely, if ever, talked to this issue and the reason for that most likely centers around his inability to accept the fact that his election to that office is tainted. This is all about his narcissism and ego. Nothing more—nothing less. In the meantime, our democracy is crying for help. Without presidential leadership and congressional action, we’re in deep trouble. There are some on the Democratic side who are sounding the alarm. We need more of them.
Final thoughts on Mueller
I’d like to close with a few thoughts on Robert Mueller himself. Going into this, I’ve always had a certain amount of respect for Mueller. And after the release of his report, my admiration has only grown. Overall, I think the man did what he was hired to do, and then some. It’s as detailed as one might expect from a man who has spent decades in the justice department, and whose reputation as a stickler for detail and fairness is beyond reproach.
It’s all the more reason that when I look back at how he was treated by President Trump, Don Jr., and many others from the Republican side of the aisle, I can only shake my head. We were told he was conflicted … he was best friends with Comey … he hired 13 angry Democrats … he has to go because of a dispute at one of Trump’s golf courses … it’s nothing but a witch hunt.
Yet, he looked at the evidence put before him and decided to give a pass to the Trump Campaign, at least as it pertained to a conspiracy with the Russians. On obstruction of justice and Trump? He did not give him a pass but did not indict him either. And we’re still hearing how much it was a witch hunt?
And, speaking again of Don Jr., the man needs to thank his lucky stars that Mueller treated him with extreme caution and fairness because, in my view, he came within an eyelash of receiving an indictment. As mentioned above, much of what Mueller determined depended on whether Don Jr. knew what the hell he was doing. He could not conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he knowingly and willingly accepted the proposed dirt on Hillary, and realized it was against the law. If I had any issue with Mueller at all, it’s in this realm of his decision-making. How many of the rest of us Americans can be assured of being saved because we were ‘ignorant’ of the law?
The way forward
Finally, it appears to me that impeachment is slowly but surely becoming the only way we will be able to resolve these issues. Clearly, the president of the United States is guilty of impeachable offenses. Mueller has given Congress a roadmap, with 10 categories of obstructive acts by the president—detailed, specific, and corroborated. It’s going to be up to Democrats in the House of Representatives to investigate these matters as quickly as they possibly can. It’s not just the Mueller Report either. Multiple investigations are going on, and subpoenas are being filed.
This President will not cooperate. He’s already stonewalling. It’s inevitable in my view that Congress must and will impeach this president, regardless of whether Senate Republicans will have the guts to make a principled stand. Democrats are not in concert as to how to proceed, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging caution.
And for now, caution is what it’s going to be. I’m not a patient person these days. But, I’m willing to give the Democrats a chance to get this right. One way or the other, this president will be held to account. If it takes multiple investigations and testimony from the leading players in all of this—so be it.
And let us not forget that Mueller and his team found many links and contacts between Trump Campaign officials and individuals having or claiming to have ties to the Russian government. While he did not find the so-called smoking gun, we should not minimize the troubling nature of this whole thing. They were all willing to accept the help of Russia, and as Mueller stated on more than one occasion, the people he interviewed throughout this process weren’t exactly forthcoming. We may never know the truth quite frankly. We should all be troubled about that.
We do owe Robert Mueller a debt of gratitude, however. He’s done his job. Now it’s up to the United States Congress to do theirs.