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Opinion: The Mueller Report: Part I

By now you all know that the full (but redacted) Mueller report has been made available to the public. I am slogging through it now. It’s long. Four hundred and eighty eight pages long. And I’m only one guy. It’s gonna take me awhile to get through it all.

But I have read a decent amount of it. It’s broke down into two volumes.

Volume I details Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and "if the Trump Team conspired with the Russians."  

Volume II deals with the president's “actions towards the FBI investigation” and if any of said actions are "obstruction of justice."

So far - I have some thoughts.  

So, what does the Mueller report actually say about Russian interference and collusion?

A lot. Like, way more than I ever expected it to. From Mueller’s introduction to Volume I of the report:

“The Russian Government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016. In June, the DNC and its cyber response team publicly announced that Russian hackers had compromised its computer network. Release of hacked materials -hacks that public reporting soon attributed to the Russian government-began that same month …. Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos … (said) that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The information prompted the FBI on July 31st, 2016, to open an investigation into weather individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.

That fall, two federal agencies jointly announced that the Russian government “directed recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including US political organizations,” and, “these thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

So, this all makes it very, very clear that Russia, a hostile foreign power, endlessly interfered in the US presidential election. That’s not even in debate.

The next part of the introduction talks about how Mueller was assigned, came on board in May of 2017 as Special Counsel and was authorized to investigate “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election,” including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.

Okay. We all know this. And then the report clearly says this:

“As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered …. principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Hrmmm. The words “numerous links,” and “did not establish” don’t seem to fit together. Let me unpackage it all:

  1. The report says the Russians interfered. Like - a lot. Like - a huge amount. The Russians …
    1. committed cyber terrorism by stealing documents and materials from our government. Then, using that information, ran social media campaigns against Clinton. And because of the large amount of Trump / Russian business connections, the Russians -
    2. knew a Trump White House would be more sympathetic to the Russian cause and so they …
    3. contacted the Trump Campaign and said “We have a bunch of stolen information that will help you (Trump) win the election. Do you want it?”
  2. The Trump campaign went, “What?!? Heck yes we’ll take all your stolen goods in order to win the election!”
  3. And so the Trump Campaign met with Russian personnel in order to exchange stolen goods and documents.  
  4. But since there was no long term agreement between the two parties to interfere in the election, that means …

Mueller felt that the while the Russians instigated cyber terrorism and the Trump team accepted the stolen material there was technically “no collusion,” because both groups acted independently towards the same mutually beneficial goal.   

Okay. I understand. That’s fair. The Trump team never called up the Russians and said, “Can you steal a bunch of stuff in order to help us win the election?” In which case, for it to be collusion, then the Russians would have to respond with, “Of course! We’ll break into the US Government and steal a bunch of information that will help you win!” Because that specific agreement - tacit or express - did not seem to happen - then there was “no collusion.”

Which … is not exactly how Barr’s four page summary spun it. But, whatever. 

Also, I’m only about fifty pages into the report so far. 

More to come.  

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Editor's note: Mueller investigators are coming forward to say that the report is far more damaging to the President than the AG (Barr) has let on. Which, is probably true. And that's why Congress should be able to read it.

 

Former special investigator Robert Mueller turned in his several hundred page report on Friday morning. I’m sure you’ve heard all about it - the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 16' Presidential election.  No one outside of the Attorney General (and maybe his office) has seen the full report and so far, only a four page summary has been sent to Congress. The only thing we “know” is from the four page summary, which quotes Mueller’s report as saying, “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election.”

Well, that’s kind of hard to misinterpret, you know? It sounds like the report is exonerating the President of all guilt. Right? And it might - for collusion. But the report also says, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Argh to prosecutor double speak!

As someone who once worked on a lot of legal depositions, I know prosecution speech when I hear it. It sounds as if Mueller is saying, “I don’t think that President Trump and team colluded with the Russians” but he’s also saying, “but Trump still might be guilty of obstruction of justice, I just didn’t find enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in court to a jury.”

Prosecutors all over the world struggle with that exact issue. They might honestly believe a suspect is guilty of a crime and the suspect in fact - might actually be guilty.  But a prosecutor’s belief in the suspect’s guilt - doesn’t prove anything. A prosecutor needs evidence, and then they have to spend taxpayer money in order to prosecute in a court of law.

Fair enough.

What the report does NOT say is that President Trump and team are innocent of all crimes. What the report does NOT say is that the Russians did not interfer in the 2016 Presidential election.

Of course, conservatives are lining up to say the President is innocent of everything and the Mueller report proves it. And Democrats are lining up to say, “Well, maybe - but we need to read the full report because something is fishy here!” And, I do agree at the very least, Congress should receive the full report. I mean, you could convince me that the press and/or regular folks don’t NEED to see the full report (we might want to see it, though). I mean, there are plenty of state or federal secrets and/or sensitive materials that are probably buried within the Mueller Report and I would be okay if the DOJ was like, “No, the general public will not see the full report.”

But Congress? Um, what possible justification could you use to claim that Congress shouldn’t be able to see the full report? The entire legislative branch should be able to read the full report! Congress practically runs the country or at the very least, allows the country to function. They already have top secret clearance so there is no reason the report should be withheld from them. Also, they legislate laws and the report clearly has evidence of Russian interference in the 16’ election, which they might need to legislate laws to protect the U.S. elections from future interference. Withholding the full report from Congress is, frankly, a little suspicious. So give the full report to Congress. 

Not that anyone asks me. =)

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Gestapo Tactics in America?

It sounded like it came out of a movie plot.  In the early morning hours, federal agents stormed a home to make an arrest.  They had to be after some major drug lord or a sought-after terrorist.  There were 29 agents all wearing military gear and carrying weapons.  High powered assault rifles were involved.  Seventeen SUVs and two armored vehicles surrounded the home with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  It must be a really dangerous dude.

In a nearby canal, amphibious watercraft charged the home filled with more federal agents.  A helicopter hovered in the sky with long range weapons focused on the home.  As agents approached the house with battering rams, they demanded that the accused immediately open the door and surrender.  The attack on Osama Bid Laden had fewer Navy Seals involved then the number of agents who were sent to arrest this dangerous villain. Was this the seizure of an anti-government leader in Venezuela?  Had El Chapo escaped from prison and his capture was about to take place?  Had the feds found Bin Laden’s successor?  CNN had been tipped off and broadcast the whole attack live. What was going on?

lt was none of these, but merely a longtime Trump friend Roger Stone.  He was being arrested for making false statements to a congressional committee.  And he was treated like a terrorist?  Stone is an American citizen and has lived in south Florida for a number of years.  He does not have a current passport.  He has known about this investigation for months, and his lawyers said he would be glad to self-surrender if he were charged with a crime. If Stone had documents to hide or destroy, he would have had plenty of time in the months preceding his arrest. He has never been accused of any crimes and has no violent history.

After his arrest, the judge let Stone out on his personal signature without having to put up any property or money.   It was obvious that Stone was no threat and should have been allowed to appear on his own. So what gives?  Have we been turned into a jackboot democracy?

Here was Stone’s response.  “They could simply have called my lawyers and I would have turned my myself in. I’m 66 years old. I don’t own a firearm. I have no previous criminal record. My passport has expired. The special counsel’s office is well aware of the fact that I’m represented. I was frog-marched out the front door barefooted and shackled.  It’s an attempt to poison the jury pool. These are Gestapo tactics.”

Some in the press speculated that the special prosecutor and the FBI were sending a message. They sure were. It’s a message of terror, and fear that no citizen can trust their government. It’s a message that your government is not above using police state tactics, and that the justice system responds, not based on evidence, but based on threats. When thugs come into intimidate, it sends a message that you may not be living in a democracy anymore but a banana republic. It sends a message that no, you are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty in a system that operates in such a dictatorial fashion.

The story gets worse.  Stone’s indictment accuses him of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee, but the testimony is classified so Stone is prohibited from seeing what he supposedly lied about. How is he supposed to defend himself if he cannot even read what he supposedly said?  What has happened to the supposed constitutional guarantee of being able to confront your accuser and challenging their evidence?

It matters not whether you are a liberal or a staunch conservative, this is not how justice is supposed to operate in America.  Many Americans will feel that if it is not happening to them then why should they care.  But unfortunately, what happened to Roger Stone could happen to anyone.  Are we not a better country  than this?


Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

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“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

It’s unfair to Richard Nixon to be compared to Donald Trump. Nixon was ashamed of his behavior and proved it when a British game show host got the best of him in an interview that resulted in the incredibly incorrect statement Nixon uttered above. I’m not sure Trump is capable of feeling shame, but we can’t ignore how similarly the Trump Administration is unraveling like the Nixon Administration did as a result of Watergate.

The Trump/Nixon Differences

Nixon was more popular than Trump is or has been. Trump limped into the White House thanks to the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by two percent (48.18 percent to 46.09 percent). Nixon, however, won reelection in 1972 in one of the biggest landslides in American political history (60.67 percent to 37.52 percent). So these two Presidents started from vastly different measures of popularity.

After winning reelection, Nixon’s job approval rating according to Gallup was 50 percent. Trump entered his first term as President with a job approval rating of 45 percent, but his post-midterm job approval rating is just 38 percent—falling six percentage points in less than a month. That sudden drop is no doubt in response to Trump coercing the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s potential participation in Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Trump replaced Sessions with former ambulance chaser and potential defrauder of veterans, Matt Whitaker, Sessions’ former Chief of Staff, which is apparently legal, even though the order of succession at the Department of Justice doesn’t include the Chief of Staff on the list. The executive order Trump signed on March 31, 2017, doesn’t list the Chief of Staff as a potential successor either, but does state that “the President retains discretion, to the extent permitted by law, to depart from this order in designating an acting Attorney General,” which was the case when Barack Obama was President, too.  

Nixon’s job approval rating dropped eight points between Dec. 11, 1972, and Jan. 12, 1973, as a result of The Washington Post’s continued reporting on the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that occurred June 13, 1971. But it wasn’t until Nixon’s Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, resigned, along with top White House staffers, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, on April 30, 1973, that Nixon’s job approval rating reflected his guilt.

Attorneys General can Smell Guilt

It’s generally not a good sign for Presidents when U.S. Attorneys General resign amid scandal, whether coerced to do so or not. Attorneys have a pretty good sense of people’s guilt and tend to be pretty good at covering their asses. Kleindienst wrote the playbook Sessions is simply following in an attempt to avoid the fate of John N. Mitchell, the Attorney General who ran Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 Presidential campaigns and was imprisoned for 19 months due to his involvement in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. And Trump is trying to improve upon the playbook Nixon wrote on covering up election fraud, but Trump is leaving his friends out to dry just as Nixon did.

Gordon Liddy, leader of the group of five men who broke into the DNC headquarters, told Attorney General Kleindienst that the break-in was directed and funded by the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), and that Kleindienst should arrange the release of the burglars to reduce the risk of exposing CREEP’s involvement in the break-in. But Kleindienst refused and ordered the Watergate burglary investigation to proceed like any other. He resigned April 30, 1973. Nixon's approval rating had dropped 19 points in roughly three months.

Just like Trump failed to ask Sessions if he would be willing to undermine Mueller’s investigation prior to appointing him Attorney General, Nixon failed to ask Kleindienst’s replacement, former Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson, if he would do what Kleindienst wouldn’t and undermine the Watergate investigation. When ordered to fire the top lawyer investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Richardson responded by resigning on Oct. 20, 1973—five months into his tenure as Attorney General. Like Sessions, Richardson had promised Congress he would not interfere with the special prosecutor’s investigation. At this point, Nixon's approval rating was 27 percent—down another 21 points since Kleindienst's resignation.

Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, the original Mueller. He refused and also resigned. Nixon then ordered the third-most-senior official at the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork, to fire Cox. Bork considered resigning after firing Cox, but Richardson convinced him not to in order to ensure proper DOJ leadership. Bork served as acting Attorney General until Nixon appointed William B. Saxbe to the position on Jan, 4, 1974, his approval rating still hovering at 27 percent.

You could say Trump has avoided some of the mistakes Nixon made, but he’s still mired in scandal and using any opportunity afforded him as President to undermine Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s potential participation in Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election. The appointment of Whitaker is to Trump as Bork was to Nixon; Whitaker just hasn’t fired Mueller yet, and might not have to if his idea to slow the investigation to a halt by cutting its funding works.

Sessions smelled guilt on Trump when he recused himself from the Mueller Investigation. That was Sessions covering his ass, and that odor has only worsened as Mueller’s investigation has resulted in indictments or guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies...so far. Some suspect a big announcement coming from Mueller, as eight members of his team worked Veteran’s Day—a paid day off for federal employees.

Barring White House Reporters a Tell-Tale Sign of Guilt

On Wednesday, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House press pass was suspended indefinitely. Acosta asked Trump whether he thought his calling a migrant caravan in South America an “invasion” demonized immigrants. The President answered “no,” adding that he wanted the immigrants to come to this country but do so legally, and that Acosta’s definition of invasion differed from his. Trump then went on to tell Acosta that he should focus on running CNN and let him run the country, and if he did, their ratings would be much better.

Trump attempted to take a question from NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander, but Acosta withheld the microphone from a White House intern and asked if Trump was concerned about the Russia investigation, to which Trump responded by calling it a “hoax” and told Acosta to “put down the mic,” stepping away from the podium when Acosta asked if he was worried about indictments. Acosta yielded control of the microphone to the intern, and Trump told Acosta that “CNN should be ashamed” to have him working for them, calling him “a rude, terrible person.”

Alexander defended his fellow free-press member: "In Jim's defense, I've traveled with him and watched him, he's a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.” Trump responded by saying, “Well I'm not a big fan of yours either.” Trump continued to insult reporters during the press conference, calling a question from PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor “racist.” She asked if Trump thought calling himself a nationalist emboldened white nationalists. Trump also told April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks to “sit down” repeatedly.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now being accused of circulating a doctored video of Acosta’s interaction with the White House intern. Sanders originally cited Acosta “placing his hands on” the woman as reason for his barring, but in defense of a lawsuit brought by CNN, the White House is now citing Acosta’s “disruptions” as reason for the suspension of his press pass.

If these aren’t the nervous actions of a guilty man’s administration, I don’t know what is. Nixon barred Washington Post reporters from the White House for everything but press conferences on Dec. 11, 1972. This was long after he sued The New York Times for publishing stories citing the leaked “Pentagon Papers,” a classified study of the Vietnam War that revealed the Nixon Administration had escalated the war despite knowing it couldn’t win the war. The Post came to The Times’ defense and published stories from the “Pentagon Papers” on June 18, 1971...just like NBC News and even Fox News is coming to the defense of Acosta and CNN today.

It took a year and a half for The Post to wear out its welcome at the White House with its Watergate coverage. Mueller’s investigation has been ongoing for a year and a half.   

How Long Until the End of Trump?

Democrats will have the votes to impeach Trump in the House of Representatives when the new Congress is convened on Jan. 3. House Democrats already introduced five articles of impeachment in November 2017, and only need a majority vote on one to force a Senate trial overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. Impeachment doesn’t mean Trump is removed from office, however.

Nixon’s Senate trial lasted two months, and it was a full two years between the Watergate break-in and his resulting resignation, so if Trump’s timeline is as similar as it has been thus far, if he’s to be removed or if he’s to resign from office, it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, but unlikely to happen at all. In fact, Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential candidates would likely prefer to run against a Trump White House rather than a Mike Pence White House, who is beloved by the Koch Brothers.

It’s not likely that Congress will remove Trump because two-thirds of Senators would have to find the President guilty in order for Vice President Pence to take over. Unless Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020 (there are at least 20) feel they’d be better served running under a Pence Presidency than the Trump Administration, don’t expect Congress to remove the President. But Congress didn’t need to vote for Nixon to resign, and similar pressure on Trump—like criminal charges brought by Mueller—might bring similar results.

The more Mueller digs, the more he seems to be digging Trump’s political grave, so don’t be surprised if come February or March of 2019, Trump is doing what Nixon did on Aug. 9, 1974—resigning. But if there’s any shame to be pried from Trump’s soul to give us what we all need to heal as a nation, it’s going to require one hell of a game show host.


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