PATRICK LAWRENCE: Why the Dust Won’t Settle After Mueller’s Report
It won’t be “full and thorough” and Democrats will continue to look for political payoff from Russia-gate, writes Patrick Lawrence.
Last week gave us mounting indications that Robert Mueller has finished his two-year probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections and is about to issue his long-awaited report.
But those who hope to read the results of the “full and thorough investigation” promised when Mueller was appointed special counsel should adjust their expectations. After spending upward of $12 million, Mueller is almost certain to hand Attorney General William Barr a light-on-evidence document that dodges many more questions than it resolves. Neither is it clear whether the AG will make all, part, or none of the Mueller report public.
There are two certainties we can rely upon as we await Mueller’s final word, none a cause for relief.
- The special counsel’s office did not undertake a credible investigation of the two core charges related to the 2016 elections—that Russian intelligence hacked Democratic National Committee email servers while colluding with Donald Trump as he sought the presidency. Mueller failed to call numerous key witnesses, and failed to pursue alternative theories, a duty of any investigator in Mueller’s position. These omissions are more or less fatal to the legitimacy of Mueller’s work.
- Among the mainstream Democrats who have incessantly hyped the “Russia-wrecked-our-elections” story, there is no remorse for the damage it has done to our governing institutions, our foreign policy, and our national security. Russia-gate has consolidated Cold War II. The chance to rebuild mutually beneficial relations with Moscow has been damaged.
Sequence of Events
There is a sequence of events leading up to the completed Mueller report that is important to follow. Earlier this month the House Judiciary Committee announcedthat it has requested documents from 81—yes, 81—government agencies, entities such as Wikileaks, and (mostly) individuals. These last include the president’s two sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer; former AG Jeff Sessions, and former White House Counsel Douglas McGahn.
The committee purports to be looking for obstructions of justice, collusion with Russia, and other possible transgressions—this after Mueller spent two years investigating the same things. It is not hard to read this for what it is: the first indication that the Democrat-controlled House wants enough grist to keep the post–Mueller Russia-gate mill running for its political advantage.
“Russia-gate,” in short, is not about to pass into history. It looks now as if this political spectacle will be sustained as long as President Trump remains in office.
Numerous other signs that Mueller is folding his tent have followed. Various members of his investigative team have either left or will do so soon. Last week Mueller relieved Michael Flynn, once and briefly Trump’s national security adviser, of further questioning. A federal judge then gave Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign manager, his final sentence: He gets seven and a half years in prison on financial fraud charges. This now looks like the biggest fish Mueller has caught—and never mind that Manafort’s crimes had nothing to do with either the Trump campaign or allegations of Russian interference.
Last Thursday the House voted 420–0 (with four abstentions) to back a resolution calling for Justice to make the full Mueller report public once it goes to Barr’s office. “Mission accomplished” is the only way to read all this. Now what?
It is not yet clear what Justice will do with Mueller’s report. In the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not saying whether he will back a make-it-public vote. He blocked a bipartisan resolution similar to the House’s earlier this year. Barr is obliged only to show some of what is in the Mueller report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
For his part, Trump has been all over the place as to what Barr should do. Last Fridayhe insisted Mueller “should never have been appointed and there should be no Mueller report.” A day later the president claimed he told House Republicans to back the make-it-public resolution, as they did. “Makes us all look good and it doesn’t matter,” the president said in a Twitter message Saturday.
The Mueller report is in for endless spin no matter what is in it. In a weekend opinion item carried in The Guardian, the usually sensible Robert Reich, a former U.S. Labor secretary, suggested the impending report leaves the president trapped and desperate. “So what does a cornered president do?” Reich asked. “For starters, he raises the specter of violence against his political opponents.”
Setting aside such paranoiac hyperbole, Trump’s second thought—publish it all—is the wiser. It is next to impossible that Mueller found hard evidence to support either of the two primary allegations that have driven the special counsel’s investigations.
First and very conspicuously, Mueller’s investigators never consulted those who could have shed light on these assertions. These include Julian Assange, theWikiLeaks founder; Christopher Steele, who wrote the now-infamous dossier purporting to establish evidence of Russian collusion, and prominent technical and forensic scientists who have done extensive work on the digital trail left by those responsible for the theft of email from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee.
Second and yet more persuasively, the just-noted technical and forensic experts have demonstrated that the mail operations in mid–2016 were not hacks — by Russians or anyone else — but leaks executed by someone with access to the Podesta and DNC emails who used a storage device such as a memory key. Mueller’s office has never examined this work in pursuit of alternative evidence in the email case. There is no legitimate justification for this dereliction.
Last week Consortium News published the latest report from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which does its own forensic work while also coordinating with various independent forensic investigators. There are now three layers of evidence indicating that the 2016 mail compromises were an inside job: the speed of the downloads, the manipulation of files to implant Russian “fingerprints,” and — this most recently — the numerical codes on the stolen files, which demonstrate that the probability of a remote hack via the internet is 1-in-2 to the 500thpower.
None of those working on the stolen mail’s metadata, including Bill Binney, formerly a technical director at the National Security Agency and the lead scientist at VIPS, has ever been contacted by the special counsel’s investigators. “Nobody wants to talk about evidence,” Binney said by telephone over the weekend. “What Mueller’s doing now is clearing the report of anything that conflicts with the forensics already produced. Given this work has been done, he can’t afford to allege collusion or Russian involvement, so there’ll be nothing substantive in the report about either.”
If Binney is right, the Mueller report will resemble the “Intelligence Community Assessment” published in January 2017. Virtually devoid of evidence, the ICA was more or less fraudulent in its reliance on loosely reasoned inferences and innuendo.
If this proves the outcome after Mueller’s two-year effort, we may never know who was responsible for the 2016 email thefts or the role of U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies since then; countless other questions will go unanswered. “The sole objective is to perpetuate ‘Russia-gate,’” Binney said last weekend. That will come at a high price when measured by the distortions of our political institutions, our judiciary and our foreign policy priorities.