President Donald Trump
Credit: CBS News/YouTube Screen Capture

Since I wrote “What the Mueller Report Should Look Like” on February 25, 2019, I’ve seen the conversation shift in the direction I suggested it should. On St. Patrick’s Day, former Justice Department official Marty Lederman made an argument almost identical to mine in the Washington Post. Essentially, he stated that the most important part Robert Mueller’s work is not the criminal, but the counterintelligence investigation. This is because the core duty of the Office of Special Counsel is to perform an assessment of the risks the country faces in the present and future, rather than a retrospective look at who may have committed crimes.

One useful way of stating this is that “It’s not the collusion, stupid! It’s the compromise.”

Here’s how Lederman described this, echoing my own argument:

The public has understandably focused thus far on the special counsel’s prosecutorial decisions. Mueller was hired in the first instance, however, to superintend an ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation. Although detection of crimes is often part of such an investigation, its principal function is not retrospective and punitive but forward-looking and preventive — to disrupt, or protect against, an ongoing foreign threat.

Mueller’s primary charge, in particular, is to ascertain the nature and extent of the Russian threat to the U.S. election system and any “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” including, but not limited to, Trump himself.

It’s nice to have someone with more relevant experience and reach and credibility than me making these points, but what’s more gratifying is that the argument has now reached the intended audience.

…in an interview with NBC News, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he is steering his investigation in a new direction to focus on [the counterintelligence aspects] — and he will demand any relevant evidence compiled by the FBI or Mueller’s team.

The California Democrat also expressed concern that Mueller hasn’t fully investigated Trump’s possible financial history with Russia.

“From what we can see either publicly or otherwise, it’s very much an open question whether this is something the special counsel has looked at,” Schiff told NBC News.

Schiff said the public testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that in 2016 Trump stood to earn hundreds of millions of dollars from a secret Moscow real estate project is a staggering conflict of interest that must be fully explored.

“I certainly agree that the counterintelligence investigation may be more important than the criminal investigation because it goes to a present threat to our national security — whether the president and anybody around him are compromised by a foreign power,” Schiff said. “That’s not necessarily an issue that can be covered in indictments.”

Anyone who saw the president’s performance in Helsinki should suspect that President Trump is compromised. I’ve argued for a long time that it has already been established that Trump is compromised. The fact that he was pursuing the Moscow Trump Tower project during the primaries was something that Putin knew, that Trump was denying, and that could have sunk his campaign if it was divulged. And that is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle indicating that the Russians know a lot of things about Trump that he doesn’t want revealed.

It’s good to know that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff now understands the product he most wants to see from Mueller is not a report on who he indicted or declined to indict, but Special Counsel’s internal assessment of who in the Trump administration or orbit, including the president himself, is a security risk because they’re subject to foreign control.

We can argue about which offenses are high crimes, low crimes, or forgivable crimes, but there can be no serious defense of a president who is compromised. There is admittedly more subjectivity involved in assessing someone’s security risk than in figuring out if they’ve violated a criminal statute, but we have a whole system for providing or denying security clearances. That’s the system we should be interested in.  It has brought all the government’s awesome powers to the task of looking at the president of the United States’ potential compromise by foreign powers.

What have they concluded?

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at