Mueller report released


LEFT: Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP; RIGHT: Charles Dharapak | AP

LEFT: President Donald Trump gestures during at the White House, Thursday, April 18, 2019. RIGHT: An Oct. 28, 2013, file photo of former FBI Director Robert Mueller in Washington. Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was released Thursday.

It’s finally here. A partially-redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report was released to the public April 18, almost two years after the former FBI director was appointed in May 2017 by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The report has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, with estimates suggesting the final tally will be around $35 million.

According to an analysis by ProPublica, roughly 6 percent of the Mueller report is “within redacted blocks.” The material that is redacted relates to grand jury testimony, investigative techniques, matters of personal privacy and material that could compromise ongoing investigations.

Mueller has so far secured 34 indictments and seven guilty pleas. Many relate to ancillary investigations and alleged crimes that occurred before Trump was elected, including instances of unregistered foreign lobbying and lying to either Congress or the FBI.

Across two volumes, the Mueller report discusses both Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether members or associates of the Trump campaign conspired with Russia. The report concludes that there was “sweeping and systemic” interference by the Russian government to sway the election in Trump’s favor, through the social media efforts of the “troll farm” Internet Research Agency (IRA) and the hacking efforts of the GRU Russian intelligence service.

While Mueller’s team did find “numerous links” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the report concludes that “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”

Trump has repeatedly used the phrase “no obstruction, no collusion” in defending himself. In the report, Mueller makes clear “collusion” is not a specific legal term with applicability to U.S. Code or federal criminal law. The Special Counsel’s Office was focused on “conspiracy,” which does have legal precedent for prosecution.

Much of this section of the report confirms previous reporting on the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails by Wikileaks.

The second volume of the report deals with whether or not the president’s attempts to stymie the Mueller probe rose to the level of a criminal act. On this Mueller declined to make a determination, instead leaving the issue to Congress.

DePaul political science professor and constitutional law expert Joseph Mello said Mueller likely had enough evidence to go ahead with prosecution.

“It’s clear from reading the report though that Muller did not charge Trump with a crime, not because he didn’t have the evidence for it (seems like he clearly did) but because Department of Justice guidelines prevent him from bringing criminal charges against a sitting president,” he said via email. “It is likely that he wanted Congress to take up the question of whether or not Trump committed obstruction through impeachment proceedings.”

For its part, the report notes if Mueller’s team “had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

Highlights from this section include the fact that Trump repeatedly tried to have those in his orbit thwart the Special Counsel investigation. This included Trump ordering former White House counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller from his post; telling former FBI Director James Comey to cease his investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; and directing senior aide Rick Dearborn and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to get former attorney general Jeff Sessions to narrow the scope of the Russia investigation to “future election meddling only.”

Others include the widely reported revelation that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied to the media about hearing from “countless” FBI agents that they had lost faith in former FBI Director James Comey. Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017, just before Mueller began his probe.

The report carries other implications as well, raising questions about the efforts of foreign governments like Russia and the United Arab Emirates to meet privately with Trump associates and influence American foreign policy.

“Insofar as Putin wanted to avoid a hostile Clinton administration — and to sow division within the Western alliance — all of the Russian meddling paid off,” said DePaul political science professor Scott Hibbard via email. “Relations between the White House and NATO/EU are at an all time low, and the U.S. has been ceding ground to China in Asia and to Russia in the Middle East. This is a large part of what Putin was seeking.”

The UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is also featured in the report, facilitating a meeting with Blackwater founder and Trump associate Erik Prince, close Putin ally Kirill Dmitriev and Lebanese-American lobbyist and convicted sex offender George Nader in the Seychelles Islands. Much of the material is redacted, but the UAE has emerged as a close Trump ally in Trump’s hawkish stance toward Iran.

The fallout from the report has been predictable. On the Democratic side, there have been calls for impeachment from Massachusetts Sen. and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, with others such as fellow candidate and senator Corey Booker and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking a more reserved stance. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-M.D., said on April 18 that impeachment was “not worthwhile.”

From Republicans, there have been claims of vindication.

Gregory Mark a professor of law at DePaul who helped bring a case against CIA officer Duane Clarridge during the Iran-Contra affair, said disappointment is present on both ends of the political spectrum.

“Everybody has at least some reason to be a little frustrated,” he said. “Everybody who thought that there would be, to use a Watergate phrase, [a] ‘smoking gun’ is a little disappointed. And everybody who thought that this would result in complete exoneration because it’s ‘fake news’ is obviously also disappointed — not the least of which is the current occupant of the White House.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler issued a subpoena to the Department of Justice for an un-redacted version of the report on Friday, and Democrats are calling for Mueller to testify publicly. It shows, said Mark, that the next steps lie with Congress.

“Unless something unexpected happens — like somebody comes out of the woodwork to say something they haven’t already said — I think the only question will be whether any congressional investigation that picks up on the issues identified in the Mueller report … can find something the prosecutorial team didn’t,” he said.