I recently learned that I am one of the 3% who have read the Mueller Report. I don’t consider the reading of this essential 448 page report some heroic undertaking. However the report does raise the question as to how much Americans will learn about what was actually uncovered by Mueller. Before public access to the report Attorney General William Barr sought to preempt the findings by creating a narrative through a 4 page “summary” and a subsequent press conference. This narrative claimed that Mueller did not find any evidence that the President and his campaign had coordinated with the Russian efforts to effect the 2016 election, vindicating the President. This narrative had a 3 1/2 week head start as it spread throughout the nation particularly to Trump supporters. It was only when Robert Mueller gave an 8 minute press conference, a visual that gave life to his 22 month effort, that many people became aware that the President had not been exonerated. As one Trump supporter acknowledged it was only after the press conference by Bob Mueller that she learned that there were negative findings about the President. Since the percentage of Americans who will actually read the report will remain small it is essential that Mueller’s findings be widely shared.
At the conclusion of the report, Mueller states”… 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. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we were unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”.
Since Trump and his supporters relentlessly assert that since no collusion was confirmed and the President was exonerated, Mueller’s findings need not be reviewed. You would never know from the public clamor about no collusion and “complete exoneration” that this report had findings that were anything but vindicating. Volume I’s 199 pages documents massive Russian involvement in the 2016 election including evidence that they clearly favored Trump over Clinton. This cyberattack on America by an adversary should have been a rallying cry for the House and the Senate to discover all they could about how it happened. More importantly they need to take action to prevent a repeat in 2020.
Unfortunately as Mueller and other sources reveal, the President’s persistent denials are essential because he believes it would otherwise undermine the legitimacy of his presidency. The recently dismissed Secretary of Homeland Security was chastised by White House staff for suggesting that the Russian attack be on the agenda for a Cabinet meeting at the White House. She was warned not to bring up the 2016 election with the President. His willingness to criticize American intelligence services before Vladimir Putin on the world stage shocked most Americans. Trump and his enablers have created so much noise that for many it has blurred the shocking spectacle of an American President trusting the word of a dictator over fellow Americans.
In documenting Russian efforts the investigation found numerous examples of Trump campaign personnel meeting with Russians. When asked by investigators and members of Congress, they lied about these contacts. In spite of an estimated 140 contacts, the investigation could not meet a very high standard that there was a coordinated conspiracy (collusion is a misused term). Due to this rigorous process, Volume 1 of the report could not assert beyond “a reasonable doubt” the intent of the individuals involved. It is evident that Mueller’s strict adherence to criminal standards were a barrier too high to cross for determining a coordinated conspiracy involving the President. Mueller would not pursue criminal charges because intent was not clearly established and DOJ policy precluded indicting a sitting president.
When Attorney General Barr went public with the Mueller Report he asserted that the investigation was not limited by the Department of Justice’s policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. In fact the report clearly states that the investigation was restricted by that very policy. Barr deliberately misled the American people both in his written summary and press conference on that very important point. This policy played a major part in restricting Mueller’s efforts particularly as applied to the numerous examples of obstruction which have been extracted from the report. Each of these actions are carefully documented in Volume II of the Report. Barr’s public statement also misled the public when he denied in a response to a press question that Mueller had expressed any concerns about Barr’s description of the report’s findings. Some examples of obstruction:
-The President sought to convince FBI Director James Comey not to investigate national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russians.
-The President terminated FBI Director Comey via a letter written by the Deputy Attorney General detailing several alleged failings. In a television interview the President acknowledged that the termination was his intention because of the Russian matter.
-President tried to remove the special counsel appointed by the Associate Attorney General in light of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal.
-President Trump sought to curtail the investigation.
-President Trump took actions seeking to prevent disclosure of emails that concerned the June 9, 2016 meeting between campaign staff, including his son Donald Trump, Jr. and Russians with connections to the Kremlin.
-President Trump sought to have Attorney General Sessions take over the investigation by rescinding his recusal. His refusal to assume this responsibility led to his firing.
-President Trump ordered White House Counsel Donald McGahn to deny that he had tried to fire special counsel.
Although not labeled an example of obstruction, the President’s resistance to being interviewed by the Mueller investigators (negotiations lasted more than a year) led to submission of written answers to questions that solely addressed alleged campaign contacts with Russia. On more than 30 occasions the President claimed he did not recall or had no knowledge. These responses included no reference to the obstruction claims. Trump’s lawyers told the Mueller team that the President would not respond to any obstruction questions. Thus in a recent television interview when President Trump was questioned about his responses he rightfully claimed he answered all the questions sent to him. When it was noted that there were no questions about obstruction he hesitated and then verbally disparaged the interviewer for being “a wise guy”. Mueller essentially dismissed Trump’s responses as of having little value because it prevented him from getting to the real issue: What was the President’s intent in his actions?
What is evident throughout this document is the fairness exhibited by the Mueller team as it applied rigorous criteria to assess each circumstance. Those who attack the Mueller report and support the contention that there was no “collusion” are either willfully ignoring the findings or have not read the report. They are dependent on the orchestrated spin from the White House, Barr, Congressional supporters (some have admitted that they have not read the document), and conservative media. Since its release the President has challenged Congress’ constitutional authority to conduct investigations by seeking to prevent anyone from testifying before Congress. The Constitution and court rulings reveal that the President’s assertion of unlimited executive powers will fail. But this strategy allows for further delay. President Trump knows that television exposure to the Report’s findings as evidenced by the 8 minutes of Mueller’s press conference, has far greater impact than the written words.
Americans need to know that the nation was attacked by an adversary who was encouraged by Donald Trump and his campaign, and who subsequently took numerous actions (obstruction) to hide the truth by lies, delays, and constant attacks against Mueller and his team. Robert Mueller giving public testimony followed by such fact witnesses as former White House Counsel Don McGahn is the President’s greatest nightmare. He is fully aware that television exposure to tens of millions of Americans is far more powerful than unread words in a long report.
Robert Mueller will testify to two House subcommittees July 24 in a nationally televised public forum. I hope this analysis will help you prepare for this critically important event.
Vincent De Sanctis is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. He writes from Tilghman.