Details of Mueller report deeply disturbing

Rather than exonerate President Donald Trump and his campaign, as the president previously has maintained, the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller details a campaign that welcomed Russian meddling to benefit candidate Trump and presents a president who sought to run interference when investigators tried to get at the truth. Americans should be deeply disturbed.

Trump certainly did not react like an innocent man when two years ago he learned a special counsel had been appointed to investigate Russian efforts to steer the presidential election in his favor. “Oh my God. This is terrible,” the report recounts Trump saying. “This is the end of my presidency. I’m (expletive).”

He had good reason to be worried.

For example, the report details how Paul Manafort, now imprisoned for corruption but for a time in 2016 the Trump campaign manager and chief strategist, met repeatedly with a Ukrainian oligarch with known ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort instructed that the Russian operative, since indicted by Mueller, receive Trump internal campaign data concerning the strategy to capture Democratic votes in midwestern states. Russian operatives used a disinformation campaign on social media in those states to peel working-class white voters from Hillary Clinton. It’s not hard to connect the dots.

Then there was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower, at which senior representatives of the Trump campaign — including Manafort, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., and his senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner — met with a Russian attorney expecting to receive derogatory information about Clinton.

Mueller also looked at the potential that the Trump campaign, in forming its strategy, used advance knowledge of the release of damaging emails hacked by Russian operatives from Democrats associated with the Clinton campaign and made public through WikiLeaks. This part of the report is heavily redacted due to the recent indictment of Trump adviser Roger Stone Jr. for allegedly lying about his participation in such efforts.

The special counsel concluded, however, that none of the activities amounted to criminal conspiracy. Proof of a specific agreement with the Russians to violate the law was not found. Knowing what the Russians were up to, doing nothing to stop or disclose it, even encouraging it is not a crime, according to the findings.

The report, however, points to numerous examples of potential obstruction. These include the firing of FBI Director James Comey; Trump’s attempts to remove Mueller, only to be blocked by staff, and his urging staff not to reveal that fact; the president’s involvement in covering up the true intentions of the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting; his efforts to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation; and Trump’s praising of those who refused to cooperate with Mueller, while criticizing and threatening those who did help the probe.

In explaining his decision not to issue a finding of criminal obstruction, Mueller points to Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting president. Using “an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes,” but without a formal indictment, would have left the president “no ... opportunity for public name-clearing at trial.” In other words, it would be unfair.

“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct,” states the conclusion of the report pertaining to obstruction.

“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 ... 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.”

He effectively tossed the matter into the lap of Congress.

It must do its duty and thoroughly explore the troubling issues raised by the Mueller report and develop new laws to better prevent and punish any level of interplay between a campaign for federal office and a foreign government.

Congress, in furtherance of its oversight responsibilities, should in bipartisan fashion demand to see the report in unredacted form and the evidence gathered to support it.

The multiple examples of Trump’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry into Russian interference in an election could well meet the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” standard for impeachment. Political realities would not favor such an attempt, however. Senate Republicans seem highly unlikely to entertain that course of action.

Better to take this case to the American people. Let them decide, after digesting these findings, whether this is the kind of man they want leading their nation for another term.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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