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What’s with the Mueller Report?
The 18th of April was a special day in the world of American politics. It was when the long awaited Mueller report was finally released, albeit with redactions. Politicians and activists from across the spectrum have called for the release of the report as soon as it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had submitted it to Attorney General William Barr. As of April 22nd, that was 3 weeks ago.
Prior to the release of the full report, Attorney General Barr had released a letter (either a damaging letter to the Democrats or a bizarre one depending on who you ask) detailing what he believed to be the principal conclusions of the Mueller investigation, which spanned just shy of 2 years. He concluded that the Special Counsel found no evidence of collusion and that the Special Counsel had reached no conclusion of obstruction of justice.
Most anyone you ask will tell you that those conclusions aren't entirely accurate. Here are, in my opinion, the two big takeaways from the Mueller report.
One of the big takeaways was that President Trump absolutely hated the Mueller investigation with a vengeance and would do anything to stop it. To some people, this comes as no surprise whereas others agree with his sentiments by calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and that the inquiry shouldn’t have been opened in the first place. Either way, it was a serious thorn in President Trump’s side and he knew it from the start. When Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel, Trump lamented that “this was the end” of his presidency and that he was in a lot of trouble.
As Mueller and his team continued to do their work, Trump attempted several times to derail the investigation. What made it even worse was that the Special Counsel knew what the President was doing as White House staff started revealing what was happening. In fact, Mueller writes in meticulous detail about a couple of these attempts. One involved the President, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and White House Adviser Corey Lewandowski.
According to Lewandowski’s testimony to the FBI, he was summoned into the Oval Office by the President on June 19th 2017. He was told that he needed to write down the President’s order immediately as it was given to him. The President requested that Lewandowski should order then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to defend him publicly and say that no Russians were on the campaign. The President also wanted to limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference once the Attorney General rescinds his recusal. Lewandowski attempted to carry out the order but due to conflicts in schedule, he was unable to. On July 19th 2017, President Trump had asked Corey Lewandowski if the message had been delivered to Sessions. Lewandowski replied that it had not but it will be soon. The President reportedly told Lewandowski that if this order was not carried out by Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General would lose his job.
Corey Lewandowski passed off the message to a senior White House official named Rick Dearborn to deliver to the Attorney General, which was not followed through and nothing happened to the Special Counsel’s investigation.
This was not the only instance, there were several others detailed in the report even among the redactions. These anecdotes further the narrative described in the infamous anonymous New York Times opinion editorial published on September 8th 2018. Figures like Don McGahn actively tried to push the President away from “creating another Saturday Night Massacre” knowing the consequences of firing Robert Mueller.
What this means depends on who you ask. For some, these just seem like failed attempts to do what was right. For others, this seems to be enough evidence to impeach the President on counts of obstruction of justice. Even for some others, the allegations are worrying and need to be investigated. The latter and the former opinions are mostly held by Democrats.
Then there’s the whole point of why the Special Counsel was appointed in the first place. What happened to the collusion aspect of the investigation?
The Special Counsel does conclude that members of the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government but it was determined that the campaign did have contact with the Russians. The Trump campaign did receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton which they were happy to accept as detailed in Donald Trump Jr.’s emails but did not ask the Russian government to actively search for more “dirt” which clears them from the conspiracy to defraud the United States charge.
Both sides were working independently, so this did not amount to conspiracy or collusion.
Did the Russians meddle in the 2016 presidential election? Almost certainly, even the Trump White House has admitted that. They admitted it in a press conference with then Chief of Staff John Kelly, then Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Director of the FBI Christopher Wray just to name a few. Was the Trump campaign actively involved in that effort?
As disappointed as Democrats are about this issue, the answer is no.
To sum it all up, one could interpret the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions to be the following. There were several attempts to derail the Special Counsel’s investigation and President Trump aired his grievances in public and private about the inquiry. Whether or not these attempts amount to criminal obstruction of justice is up to interpretation. Furthermore, there is an existing Department of Justice policy stating that a sitting President cannot be indicted which was established during the Spiro Agnew scandal. Should Congress decide to introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump, this policy is something to keep in mind. Lastly, the investigation found no irrefutable, concrete evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Now that the public has access to this information, it is up to Congress now. Will the Mueller inquiry and everything related to it finally be put to rest? Will lawmakers decide to further investigate what is being alleged in the report? Or will articles of impeachment be introduced in an attempt to hold the President accountable for whatever wrongdoing he was allegedly done? The short answer is that as of right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen. As cheesy and overused as the saying is, time will tell.