The long awaited Mueller report, over two years in the making, was presented to Attorney General Bill Barr at the fag-end of last week. Its summary, which was made public in a “document dump”, broke upon placid, sunnyish and steadily warming Washington DC like a thundercloud.
A “document dump” is a well-known term among political reporters in the US capital. It usually means authors of the “document dump” hope to circumvent the strident voices on talk radio and cable television over the weekend — for two whole days, or 48 hours, practically eternity in the 24×7 world of breaking news. It gives them two days till Monday, to gauge the impact and prepare a response, and fight unexpected fires. Friday night is also when this staid bureaucratic town begins to let its severe, tight bun stray loose by a few strands of hair, when lobbyists oil the government machinery with expensive dinners and fancy soirees — so the key figures in US political circles are virtually unreachable.
According to the four-page summary provided to Congress by AG Barr, Mueller cleared President Donald Trump of the main charge of “colluding” with a national enemy, Russia, the main component of the erstwhile USSR. However, the Mueller report left another serious charge still hanging by a thread: It reached no conclusion on whether Trump sought to obstruct justice, mainly by firing FBI Director James Comey. The firing of Director Comey directly led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor (a fact that Comey clearly took credit for during Congressional testimony), so it still leaves some room for Democrats to manoeuvre.
The report makes at least two things immediately obvious. One, that President Donald Trump did not collude with Russia to influence the 2016 elections. And two, that the Democrats are extremely sore losers: the obstruction charge is only the lesser one, and pales in comparison to the main charge of the Candidate (now Head of Government) actually teaming up with a hostile foreign power to fix an election, clearly seditious conduct punishable by death, definitely in times of war, which former President Barack Obama declared the US was with Russia on the cyber front in the months preceding the elections. In a statement while expelling Russian diplomats, Obama said he had personally warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to “lay off” trying to hack US elections and critical infrastructure.
The Republican talking heads are now claiming that “obstruction” is untenable even if Trump were guilty of it because there was no commission of the much bigger crime, viz collusion with a national enemy. This, however, is a dubious claim because there is clear precedent in US Supreme Court law that the crime of obstruction of justice did not have to be predicated by the commission of a crime that was sought to be covered up. Neutral lawyers and those on the Democratic side are quoting the case of the foodie magnate Martha Stewart who went to prison precisely on this charge. Trump, who has single-handedly re-imagined the global order to better “serve America’s interests” in the face of unrelenting hostility across the world and at home, has been living under the massive shadow cast by the investigation of Special Counsel Mueller as soon as he assumed office.
Even before inauguration, as President Elect, he faced the ignominy of being briefed by intelligence officials along with President Obama about an extremely disturbing “tape” of him filmed by the Russian secret service, the FSB, in Moscow. The existence of this alleged tape, which no one has seen, was immediately leaked as actual news to gossip site Buzzfeed, which the Democrats and the extreme left of centre politicians have long had an open line to. The existence of this tape, Buzzfeed reported as fact, quoting from a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official who had worked in Russia.
This is where it gets extremely murky for the Democrats. This former spook now runs a commercial “security firm” in England, a kind of investigative entity used routinely by big business to vet possible candidates for top jobs and skewer top honchos of rival firms. Worse, the man, who claimed he had good sources in Russia in the turbulent ’80s and ’90s did not even conduct any actual investigative work in Russia to compile his “dossier”. He merely tapped old contacts of uncertain standing in the new Russia of Putin — which is an entirely different kettle of fish.
It gets much much worse for the Democrats. This shady firm was recruited by a Washington DC political firm (Fusion GPS) hired by Democrats (Hillary Clinton) to conduct “Opposition Research” on Candidate Trump. “Oppo’ research” is polite euphemism to dig up personal dirt for use during the election campaign. It is used by both parties. Now, there is also a personal trail that leads back to Hillary Clinton herself, through the wife of FBI ex-deputy director Andrew McCabe — a vocal critic of President Trump. Hillary Clinton, it is demonstrable, funded McCabe’s wife’s failed campaign for political office in Virginia, which is practically next door to Washington DC. And then, although it will take several thousands of words to describe the intricacies of publicly released text messages of FBI agents, a case can easily be made that a few counterintelligence FBI officials tried to plant moles in the Trump campaign and were working to “insure” the defeat of Donald Trump at the polls.
Highly egregious conduct by the top investigative body in the US, to say the very least.
It is beyond doubt that Trump can now breathe easy – for the very first time since he came down the escalator in Trump Tower in super exclusive Midtown Manhattan to launch his presidential campaign. To call the report a vindication would be too mild. Washington DC has been split along ultra-acrimonious lines for so long and the Republican and Democratic bases fired up for so long that the report is only the first act in a yet to unfold main one in a several-act play that can easily rival Broadway in its mass appeal and intrigue. More, it is real.
Speaking recently to a top network news host, Director James Comey looked rather forlorn and “confused”, like a deer caught in the headlights on a state highway, a routine occurrence in beautiful New York State. He confessed that he did not “understand” why Mueller, a longtime former colleague, had found that there was no evidential basis for a case of obstruction of justice against the President — the man who was “obstructed against” was Comey himself. The Congressional Republicans are now breathing fire. They have enough ammunition to open several lines of inquiry into the conduct of several Democrats and government “Deep State” officials, an euphemism for old bureaucrats — all of them Democrat-sympathisers — in this extremely liberal city.
Senator Lindsey Graham, now the powerful Chairman of the Judicial Committee, fired the first salvo. Senator Graham, who has patiently and strictly correctly followed each twist and turn of this investigation has won a tremendously loyal following within Republican circles through his mild but meaningful public utterances. The others that will lead the Republican charge are Senator Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, Senator Ted Cruz, a lawyer and still a possible Republican nominee to the Supreme Court, and Devin Nunes, who has followed the trail of alleged FBI misconduct with laudable doggedness.
Senator Graham, easily the most powerful man in Congress right now, has publicly stated his desire for some answers. There will be plenty of subpoenas issued, some closed door and others for public hearings. The Obama Justice Department last headed by AG Loretta Lynch will be closely scrutinised. Obama himself will come under an unforgiving microscope. All in all, the Mueller report has truly set the cat among the pigeons in Washington DC. Sure, the US President can bask in his glory… but it is by no means certain for how long.
In a Special Prosecutor investigation of the kind carried out by a top notch professional such as Director Mueller, the report (the public part of it) hides as much as it reveals. Here’s the crucial question: How much damaging information was thrown up on Trump? Will it damage him politically, or even jettison his Presidency? Democrats Adam Schiff and New Yorker Jerry Nadler, both powerful Congressmen, will want to know just what dirt was thrown up on Trump. And why was the President so protective of his tax returns? Mueller had access to the returns. After all, a real estate mogul in New York City cannot be clean. As a whistle or as a blower.
It is anyone’s guess what Trump’s political future is. Will he complete his term, or will Vice President Mike Pence have to step in? All that, as they say, remains to be seen.
By Ravi S Buddhavarapu
The author is a senior journalist based in Singapore.