After 22 months, special counsel Robert Mueller turned in his report to Attorney General William Barr on March 24 regarding his investigation into President Trump’s alleged “collusion” with Russia in his successful 2016 presidential campaign.
Two days later, Barr released a four-page summary of the report, with portions of the full report to be made public in mid-April, Barr says. With the help of 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents, Mueller’s team issued 2,800 subpoenas and interviewed 500 witnesses. From this, Mueller handed out 34 indictments and won seven convictions. In comparison, in the Watergate scandal of 1972-74, 69 people were indicted and 48 were convicted.
In order of importance, Mueller’s findings are four.
First, there was no collusion with Russia. In Barr’s words, he (Mueller) “did not find that the Trump campaign … conspired with the Russian government … despite multiple (Russian) offers … to assist the Trump campaign.” This was the central purpose and focus of the Mueller investigation. A positive finding would have served as the trigger to impeach President Trump. On this one, the president dodged a very big bullet.
As Mueller’s investigation proceeded, the question of whether Trump obstructed justice emerged as a second issue. Here Mueller equivocated, and left it up to his bosses, Assistant Attorney General Rob Rosenstein and Barr, to make the determination, since, as Mueller said, he could not clearly establish that a crime had been committed, but nor could he exonerate the president. Rosenstein and Barr then determined that “the evidence developed … is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Controversy will swirl around this point. I will return to it shortly.
Third, the Russian government did try to influence the 2016 presidential race, and in three ways: through rebuffed offers to assist the Trump campaign, through hacking Democratic National Committee emails, and through data leaks via Wikileaks and other social media. All Americans should rise up in alarm over this finding.
Finally, the report stated that there would be no further indictments. Translation: The investigation is over. There are no smoking guns.
Time magazine headlined Barr’s summary as “one of the biggest wins of (Trump’s) presidency.” But the headwinds against Trump still blow strong. Democratic activist Tom Steyer presses ahead with his $100 million impeachment campaign. Rep. Rashida Tlaib has just introduced a formal bill of impeachment. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, insists there is still “clear evidence of collusion.” The Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger calls this belligerent clinging to their cherished beliefs the “Trump derangement syndrome.”
This derangement clearly has affected the so-called “mainstream media,” which has been obsessed with bringing down the president during the entire 22-month investigation. In fairness, The Daily Times has put prominent conservatives into its balance of columnists, and they have given its readership the benefit of different perspectives. With this more general anti-Trump juggernaut, however, it should come as no surprise that a poll conducted after the release of the Barr summary reported that 40 percent of the respondents said that it doesn’t clear Trump of wrongdoing.
It is the obstruction-of-justice point that sticks in the craw of Trump’s opponents. Journalist Kathleen Parker has observed that Mueller’s equivocation is equivalent to the rage of Republicans over James Comey finding Hillary’s 30,000 missing emails as only “extremely careless,” instead of the criminal standard of “gross negligence.”
In recent history, President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton formally were charged with obstruction of justice. Nixon’s charge was over an attempted cover-up of the criminal break-in he ordered into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex. Clinton’s charge was over lying about an affair with an intern in the Oval Office. In both cases, there were verified misdeeds that were the targets of the obstructions. In the case of Trump, however, it is difficult to prosecute an obstruction-of-justice charge over something (collusion) that was determined not to have happened.
Assuming that the full release of the Mueller report will not contradict the four points of the Barr summary, the net effect of this long investigation will be to validate the 2016 election. Donald Trump won the presidency, without Russian collusion, by the rules of the constitutionally mandated state-by-state popular elections that determine the deciding Electoral College votes. This is the way the American people have selected their presidents since 1789, and will again in 2020. The costly, drawn-out attempt to overturn the result of the 2016 election with a condemning Mueller report has failed.