I haven’t seen Mueller’s report. No one I know has seen it. None of the columnists and pundits who are opining on it have seen it. What they and I have seen is a self-serving memorandum that attorney general William Barr sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the congressional judiciary committees. This is one reason that I won’t be joining my colleague Joshua Alvarez in his end-zone dance that “the Mueller report [didn’t] amount to much of anything.”
If you want to know what part of the Mueller investigation matters, it’s not the part that sought to prove that Trump told the Russians to hack into the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta’s email. It’s not the part that looked into any possible coordination on how and when that hacked information was utilized. It’s not the part where they tried to discover if the Russian fake-news troll factory in St. Petersburg coordinated with the campaign in some way. These theories were floated and run down by Mueller’s team, and they seem to come up short of anything they were willing to bring into a court room. It’s these theories that could collectively be called “collusion” and that William Barr was able to inform Congress had not been proven.
What we need to do here is to take a step back and reflect on how these theories all got started in the first place. In the summer and fall of 2015, few people were taking Donald Trump seriously as a candidate for the Republican nomination, but he was getting a lot of attention from the press mainly because he was famous and outrageous. He said a lot of politically incorrect or unorthodox things, but one of his themes was particularly curious. He kept saying nice things about Vladimir Putin and making excuses for his murderous behavior.
In 2015, most American politicians were concerned that Russia had been busy interfering in elections and boosting far-right white nationalist parties on two continents, downing passenger jets, throwing journalists out of windows, poisoning and assassinating people in their homes on foreign soil, and killing others with radiation and military grade nerve agents. But Trump was different. He approved of Russia’s move into Syria on the spurious rationale that they would fight ISIS there rather than prop up the genocidal regime of Bashar al-Assad. He doubted that Putin really had any journalists killed and stated that even if he did it was no worse than the things the American government does on a routine basis. In addition to being crazy, these comments made no political sense.
Trump’s rhetoric about Putin was odd enough that it aroused suspicion that he had some hidden financial motivation. In October 2015, Republican donor Paul Singer, through his magazine The Washington Free Beacon, contracted with Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS to investigate Trump’s foreign business ties, including those with Russia. This contract ended when Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, but the suspicion didn’t go away and the Clinton campaign retained Fusion GPS to continue their investigation.
As it turns out, the suspicions were correct. The same month that Paul Singer hired Glenn Simpson, Trump signed a letter of intent to build the tallest building in Europe. The location was Moscow. For more than three years afterwards, Trump would deny that he had any financial ties to Russia or was pursuing any business deals there. Every one of those denials was a lie.
So, to summarize how this began, Trump said things about Putin and Russia that made people suspect that he was either protecting or pursuing business interests there. That is precisely what he was doing. He lied about it. The Russians knew he was lying about it. This gave the Russians leverage over Trump, because they could reveal his lies at at any time. They could have sunk his chances of winning either the Republican nomination or the general election, but they refrained from doing that. Instead, they sent emissaries to talk about sanctions relief. They launched a massive multi-faceted campaign to damage Hillary Clinton and assist Donald Trump.
Without rehashing all the familiar contacts between Russia-linked operatives and the Trump campaign (which now number 102), we shouldn’t have any difficulty understanding that Russia cultivated and assisted Trump because they wanted to get out from under the sanctions that were imposed on them after they annexed Crimea. Putin also felt a personal animosity toward Hillary Clinton, but that was secondary and still related to the issue of money.
If you stop and think about the rumored “pee tape” for a minute, it’s clear that the reason people were willing to believe it is because they needed some explanation for Trump’s behavior. It seemed obvious that Putin had something he was holding over Trump, so maybe it was good, old-fashioned kompromat with hookers from the time Trump went to Moscow to host his beauty pageant.
But it didn’t need to be that at all. Trump was pursuing (and then hiding) his Moscow Trump Tower deal, and that alone was enough to compromise him.
After the intelligence community established that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democrats, Trump inexplicably refused to credit their findings. He did this on the campaign trail, in the presidential debates, and even after he had been given detailed intelligence briefings. He continued to do it when he was president-elect. He even resumed doubting the evidence after he had officially accepted it.
After the election, the intelligence community went further and declared that Russia had intervened on Trump’s behalf, and at that point he may have felt that it was a way of denying him full credit for his victory, but his denials began the day that the leaks were first blamed on Russia, way back in June 2016.
Once elected, he immediately signaled that he would move to lift sanctions on Russia, even as the Obama administration was putting down new sanctions as punishment for the election interference. The contrast is what caused the first scandal of the Trump administration and the resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Since Trump has been in office he has continued to say and do things that indicate or strongly suggest that he is indebted somehow to Vladimir Putin. Here are some examples:
1. Advocating that Americans pull their troops out of the Far East.
2. Advocating that Americans pull out of Syria and arguing that the Russians only want to be there to fight ISIS.
3. Arguing that Crimea rightfully belongs to Russia because many ethnic Russians live there.
4. Saying NATO is obsolete.
5. Refusing to commit to the protection of former-Soviet NATO members in the Baltics.
6. Refusing to commit to the protection of NATO member Macedonia.
7. Attacking the European Union.
8. Calling the European Union a “foe.”
9. Supporting the United Kingdom’s split from the European Union.
10. Supporting the same Euro-skeptic far right white nationalist parties that Putin supports.
11. Attacking and undermining the governments in London and Berlin, which present the strongest resistance to Putin’s influence in Europe.
12. Attacking the U.S. intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies to undermine their credibility with the American public.
13. Decimating the Department of State.
14. Pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
He also arranges to meet with Putin privately whenever he can, and the results have been suspicious every single time. When my colleague Joshua Alvarez says that the “the narratives of Trump-the-Manchurian-Candidate” and “Trump-the-Russian-Agent,” have been debunked by Mueller’s report, he doesn’t have much to support his claim.
With the firing of FBI director James Comey, the intelligence community made a decision that they could no longer avoid the main topic raised by Trump’s behavior with respect to Russia. He actually crowed to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in an undisclosed Oval Office meeting the next day that he’d fired Comey and thereby released himself from great pressure. While he was doing that, he divulged sensitive information about Syria that we had obtained from the Israelis. New FBI director Andrew McCabe authorized a counterintelligence investigation into Trump within the week. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein quickly authorized a Special Counsel investigation which then inherited the counterintelligence investigation.
This wasn’t a look at what the Trump campaign had known about the hacking or how they might have coordinated with the Russians during the campaign. It was a look at whether the president was compromised in some way and under the influence of a foreign power.
This is the “real” Mueller Report, and we have not yet heard a peep about it. Before anyone does any end-zone dances, we need to see the conclusions of this report. And, as NBC News reports, that will allegedly happen soon:
Two senior U.S. officials told NBC News on Monday that the FBI is prepared to brief congressional leaders on the counterintelligence findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump, and the letter sent to Congress on Sunday by Attorney General William Barr about the Mueller probe is silent on the question of whether investigators found that Trump or anyone around him might be compromised or influenced by Russia.
The officials said they expect the FBI to brief the so-called Gang of 8 — the leaders of the House and the Senate and the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees — in closed session.
No briefing has been scheduled, a third U.S. official familiar with the matter said, but one of the officials said it could happen within the next 30 to 60 days.
In the weeks and months before the Mueller investigation concluded, I began to worry that Trump had succeeded in making everyone think the main concern was “collusion.” On January 22, I wrote A Compromised Administration Is as Bad as a Colluding One, and on March 20, I wrote, It’s Not the Collusion, Stupid! It’s the Compromise. These were efforts to refocus people’s minds on the primary thing that matters. What matters is not what William Barr reported on to Congress. What matters are the counterintelligence findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
As a public relations matter, Trump had a fantastic week and now he seeks to demolish his enemies for seemingly having come at the king and missed. In this, he’s being inadvertently assisted by a lot of pundits and reporters who bought into the idea that the problem is that Trump may have cheated in the election. The problem has always been far deeper and more serious than that. The problem is that Trump appears to be compromised and unable to fulfill the duties of his office.
Obviously, we must see the evidence of obstruction of justice that William Barr dismissed, and clearly Trump is facing investigations into everything from his charities to his hotels to banking, wire, and insurance fraud to the conduct of his inaugural committee. But the main thing we must see is what our counterintelligence experts have concluded about the president. That’s the real Mueller Report.