The Mueller Report (2019)

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the president’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, 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 are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

The Mueller Report, “Conclusion,” Volume II


It is May 2019, and The Mueller Report, redacted version, is finally Out There.

It is a thorough report. A brief review will suffice.

The report fills us in about, first, Russia’s massive interference in the 2016 U.S. elections to propel Trump to the White House–especially their ingenious and vast social media  “active measures” crafted to widen further America’s deepening cultural divide–and whether the Trump campaign engaged in a conspiracy to accomplish “coordination of election assistance” with the pro-Trump Russians/GRU.

Second, the report deals with whether Trump committed the impeachable offense of obstruction of justice in trying all along to end or greatly diminish the Mueller investigation.

The answers to both inquiries are right there in The Mueller Report. In the case of a Trump Campaign-Russian conspiracy, the answer–especially Why (or Why not)–may be inferred by reference exclusively to the text–the words–in the report, text which reveals the quality of the Trump team–judgment, experience, maturity–and leads readily to conclusions about likely attitudes toward that team by intelligence professionals, i.e., Putin/GRU. These attitudes are intimated beyond the words themselves by reflecting on the interrelated behavior of the Russians and the Trump people as directly and indirectly conveyed by The Mueller Report. (More below.)

As to an answer about Trump and obstruction of justice, it seems loudly obvious that the approximately nine hundred jurists across America, jurists of all persuasions, liberal to conservative, who recently have unanimously agreed under signature that given the findings in The Mueller Report there is no doubt President Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice, have sealed the deal: there should be a Congressional investigation not so much involving “a traditional prosecutorial judgment” as one pursuing the impeachment of Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Indeed, what a remarkable and forceful collective expert review–those nine hundred or so jurists–of Mueller’s work! It tells us authoritatively that in the legal realm, impeachment proceedings to protect us and our grandchildren from an authoritarian in the White House are mandated.

Mueller, wise in his pragmatic understanding of the perils of prosecution of Trump without Congress and through formal indictment charged exclusively by the Justice Department, has clearly tried to set it up for Congress to follow through on Trump and obstruction. (I think of Barr and his absurd pre-release synopsis of The Mueller Report as reflecting fears about the Special Counsel’s building of a Congressional launching pad.)

For the moment, the politics of impeachment proceedings–here especially timing considerations of their effect on the attitude of voters who will go to the polls in the crucial 2020 election–are conditioning the pace of the post-Mueller investigation being conducted in a Democratic-controlled House. Detailed predictions of the evolution of the House-implemented investigation based on The Mueller Report are inadvisable. Hence it seems best now to review The Mueller Report largely on its own terms to discuss both the conspiracy question and the obstruction question.

And so, briefly, major impressions:

Conspiracy. What comes out most prominently between the lines of The Mueller Report is the middling quality of the Trump team members who contacted and were themselves contacted by the Russians regarding the issue of campaign interference. A personal anecdote bears here. Prior to the release of The Mueller Report, I had assumed that the primary evidence of what would constitute a treasonous collaboration would finally be the detection of a joint day-to-day working arrangement between GRU and Trump project team members, with the members sharing such targeting data as the Trump campaign’s internal polling data which Paul Manafort provided to a Russian oligarch to whom Manafort remains in serious (and perhaps deadly) debt. Hence: Did Trump’s own subcontracted team of computer jockeys collaborate with the GRU project team about such issues as when best to release in the summer of 2016 the Wikileaks trove of Clinton emails and the additional question of which American voters in which states to target through “active measures”– in order to motivate Trump voters, discourage Clinton voters, and make gains in the Electoral College? My own assessment: After the Russians took the measure of such as Roger Stone, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, et al.–apparently there were some one hundred and forty interactions between the Russians and the Trump people–the Russians would hardly be inclined to involve these bumbling Americans in one of their most brilliant, subtle, knowledgeable and ominous projects against America! Not that the Russian intelligence professionals, starting with Putin, would ever be much inclined this way!  (Would we ourselves ever decide to do such collaboration in a reversed situation? I doubt it.) The straightforward narrative in The Mueller Report of the Trump team’s contacts with Russians is a very clear description of a collection of mediocre (as well as boringly “eccentric”) formal and informal campaign workers. I don’t imagine you’d want to clear many of these people! And I don’t imagine it stressed Putin/GRU to decide to avoid actually working with them! (I’m betting Putin needed some laugh breaks?)

Obstruction of Justice. It’s simple: Those nine hundred jurists quickly agreeing to sign their names to a judgment that obstruction of justice must be pursued against Trump. Yes, Mueller and McGahn should testify: Voter education. Yes, we need the unredacted report to be furnished to Congress. Yes, Professor Tribe has demolished the argument that a sitting president can never be indicted. But the goods are already in The Mueller Report. Volume II, dealing with obstruction, is shocking, even these days, and enervating.

Thoughts. Letitia James, New York State Attorney General, and Manhattan prosecutors, are pursuing Trump in his business dealings. This means that the issue of Trump and criminality isn’t going away any time soon and most likely will intensify. This development forms an important context for Mueller’s investigation and Congress.

What about Trump’s “base”? I think of the couple in a Midwest diner who recently nodded in solemn agreement as the reporter listed almost a dozen likely Trump behavioral and policy disasters, after which the couple said they would certainly vote for Trump in 2020. Hopefully Democratic electoral official Tom Perez will court the “base” as will some of the candidates, but effectively the inevitable approach may be not Patrick Moynahan’s policy of “benign neglect” but a policy of malign neglect. In a sense, the Civil War of the 1860s is, as Faulkner might say, not even over yet.

New York businessman and political strategist Donny Deutsch, who has known Trump for years and calls Trump’s business dealings those of an incompetent bottom-feeder, has a new show on MSNBC, Saturday Night Politics. Deutsch has become very wealthy as a “branding” expert and a real estate leader. His prediction: Trump will resign, lose his empire (such as it is) through largely prosecution by the New York legals, and go to jail.

Deutsch advises the Democratic presidential candidates to stress the “rigged economy” that promotes the widening income disparity (“hollowing out” of the middle class).

Rigged economy. Might that be a strong second punch on Democratic 2020 campaigns to the first punch in The Mueller Report? As the pundits say about Democrats and 2020: Gotta be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

That way, we achieve voter turnout.

Turnout! Turnout! Turnout!

The Mueller Report reinforces the imperative.