Opinion | Muftic: Investigating the investigators
The Special Counsel’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 elections is continuing to dog President Trump in spite of proclamations by his cohorts in the Senate and himself that the case was closed. See, he says, it was all a hoax and a witch hunt anyway. The Trump administration’s real feelings expressed in their actions suggest otherwise. The Trump administration is diverting voters’ attention away from the Mueller findings and instead is urging them to bark up another tree: investigate the investigators.
So afraid of House hearings and talks of beginning the impeachment process, Trump and his Senate supporters are acting as if they fear the voters might get a more vivid picture of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller when witnesses testify before the House committees and the words they speak themselves are carried on national TV. The bulkiness of the 448 pages of the report makes it nearly impossible for the public to sort the most important trees from such a dense forest of words just by reading it. In response, the Trump strategy is to keep as many key witnesses from responding to subpoenas to testify, using executive privilege and excuses politics are being played and to keep any underlying evidence or an unredacted report from seeing the light of day. Trump is now refusing to let the former White House Counsel, Don Mcgahn, appear, telling him to ignore the subpoena. Barr is already facing contempt of Congress charges for refusing to release the full unredacted Mueller report.
AG Bill Barr last week appointed a special prosecutor to determine if the investigators spied on the Administration or were politically motivated. The administration had already tried to argue that the appointment of Mueller was illegal but that argument was shot down by a federal appeals court earlier in a case involving Roger Stone. This new special counsel investigation is a sideshow to the main event. It is obviously designed to divert voters’ attention from the more consequential tree, the substance, and veracity of the Mueller Report, and discovery of more damning information not included in the redacted report itself. The pressure to appoint this new counsel came from Trump supporters. The Administration has not offered an effective counter-response to the detailed evidence, sworn testimony, and substance of the Mueller report. Instead, the administration is trying to attack the whole report’s credibility based on its origins and motivations of the investigators.
There was no hoax when it came to what the Russians did in 2016. The Russian witches were flying in full regalia on the broomstick of modern media throughout Volume I of the Mueller report. The Russians were not exonerated of their active measures to try to twist the minds of voters. In fact, their spies and GRU operatives were indicted. That is a different finding when it came to the President, who was exonerated of conspiring, coordinating and plotting with the Russians. Trump was not exonerated of obstruction of justice but the Department of Justice rules kept him from being indicted. The Trump appointed Attorney General Bill Barr deceived the public when he asserted the President was exonerated by Mueller for “collusion”. In his redacted report, Mueller wrote he did not even investigate the President for “collusion”; he investigated the criminal charge of conspiring which requires evidence of intent and active coordination with the Russians. There was not enough evidence to prove a conspiracy. They may have welcomed Russian actions, provided polling data, and encouraged Russia to act (“Russia if you are listening, find Hillary’s missing emails”), tried to establish back-channel communications, and met with Russian officials and operatives more than a hundred times, and promoted Russian foreign policy regarding Ukraine and sanctions, but that was not enough evidence of “conspiracy” as defined by criminal statutes.
What is at stake in the House investigations is more than just educating the public, embarrassing the President, and impacting public opinion for 2020 presidential elections. It is about recommending changes to the Special Counsel legislation and shaping and funding elections to be protected from foreign interference in the future. The legislation is already in the works to limit the President’s power to dangle pardons to influence testifiers and giving greater access to tax returns.
Yet to be discovered by the House is whatever happened to the counterintelligence investigation that was launched July 31, 2016, and to learn if the Russians had evidence that they could hold over the President to force him to act in Russia’s interest. These findings were not included in the Mueller report and they still need to be pursued. The House is hoping Trump’s tax reports release could shed light on to whom he owed money and the Administration is fighting that release of tax reports tooth and nail.
Also at issue is even more than just a power struggle between two branches of government. It is getting at the truth by seeing the entire unredacted version of the Mueller report, its underlying evidence, and the grand jury findings. Some of this cannot be discovered unless formal impeachment proceedings are begun, a process that empowers Congress greater ability to access the information. In the meantime, the action or slow action moves to the courts, which Trump hopes will draw out any decisions until after 2020. Congress can only fine (and unlikely imprison) those who refuse to honor subpoenas. Charging contempt of Congress carries no real penalties other than to expose to the public bad behavior by officials.
The only branch with any power to force the Administration to abide by the subpoenas is the Courts, which is where the real fight will now take place. The Courts do have power to jail and fine for contempt of their orders. The argument the Administration gives for stonewalling Congressional subpoenas is that Congress wants the information for political reasons only. If case law coming from the Nixon impeachment era stand, those arguments will not hold water. Two articles of impeachment charged against Nixon were stonewalling subpoenas from Congress and by endeavoring to obstruct justice. Similar charges could be at play in any Trump impeachment process.
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