April 1, 2020

Loudest and Wrong

By Stephen Tuttle | April 6, 2019

The loudest voices on both sides were wrong: There was no sinister deep state out to take down the president. There was no treasonous conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians.  
We have to back up to remember why there was a Mueller investigation in the first place.
Long before Mueller, our intelligence community already knew the Russians were interfering in the 2016 elections, including hacking activities and widespread disinformation and misinformation campaigns on the internet and social media. And they knew it was being done to benefit the Trump campaign.
At the same time, there were an unusual number of contacts between those in the Trump orbit and the Russians — so many meetings with so many people that it drew both suspicion and, in some quarters, alarm. The FBI began an investigation into some of these interactions four months before the now infamous Steele dossier surfaced.
Carter Page, Trump campaign volunteer, and George Papadopoulos, a member of the Trump campaign's foreign policy advisory committee, both drew scrutiny for multiple contacts with Russians. More troubling was Michael Flynn's coziness with Vladimir Putin since Flynn had headed up the Defense Intelligence Agency. 
Russian hackers then penetrated the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton, and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. GOP Rep. and Trump supporter Dana Rorhabacher met with Russians in London, then met with Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, months before Wikileaks released the hacked emails.
Paul Manafort, who had been working for pro-Russian Ukranian politicians at a time we were enforcing sanctions against Russia for their invasion of eastern Ukraine, was named Trump campaign chair.
Then, in rapid succession, Carter Page gave a commencement address at a Russian school while maintaining contact with at least 10 Russians, including at least two known to work for intelligence services; it was revealed that Trump attorney Michael Cohen had met several times with Russians to discuss a business deal Trump denied existed; Donald Trump, Jr., presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign chair Manafort met with Russians who claimed to have negative information about Clinton; Michael Flynn met with Russians yet again; and the Steele dossier was published in Mother Jones.
There were so many dots the FBI would have been derelict not to investigate whether they connected. Then Donald Trump was elected.
Michael Flynn, who denied meeting with Russians, became Trump's National Security Advisor, which only accelerated and expanded the investigation. Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to back off the Flynn investigation; Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department investigation since he was another Trump operative who met with Russians; Trump fired Comey over “the Russia thing.”
At that point there were so many entanglements — dozens of meetings involving at least 17 Trump campaign staffers, transition team members, and current White House staffers — the dots were everywhere. When questions of FBI bias arose, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as an independent special counsel.  
Mueller's assignment was two-fold: Determine if Donald Trump and/or his campaign conspired with the Russians during the 2016 campaign, and if Trump obstructed justice during the investigation. A career prosecutor and FBI director under two presidents (Bush and Obama), Mueller brought with him a reputation as a straight shooter: ethical, methodical, and painstakingly detailed.
The shrillest of the Democrats were excited, convinced Mueller would find all manner of wrongdoing. Impeachment and even invoking the 25thAmendment were spoken of in not-so-hushed tones. With each new revelation or indictment, the howls grew louder.
The president and too many Republicans denigrated and belittled Mueller and his team, claiming it was an attempted “takedown” or coup perpetrated by Democrats and a deep state of anti-Trump conspirators in the government. 
Neither allegation was even close. Mueller found no conspiracy between Trump or his campaign and the Russians. That should be a relief to all of us, since a president functioning even as an unwitting Russian asset would be a very bad thing.
Mueller, was not, however, able to either indict or exonerate Trump on the obstruction accusation. If the goal was to “get” Trump, the stretch to a sealed indictment for obstruction would not have been a long one. (The grand jury Mueller convened is still active, and other investigations proceed apace.)
An independent special counsel was necessary, and there was nothing illegitimate about the Mueller probe, nor the work done by his team. We had to know if all those dots were connected. They did find liars and crooks — they filed 199 criminal charges, with 37 indictments resulting in pleas or guilty verdicts sending five people to prison — but no conspiracy.  
Mueller and his team should be thanked for their work, not further debased by either side. The adult in the room did his job. The loud voices were wrong. Again.   


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