Even enemies occasionally travel in the same direction. The 420-0 House vote to release Mueller’s report in toto tells you a few things:
- Democrats and Republicans can agree, especially if one’s vote bears no cost. See point four.
- Congress wants to message the Justice Department: “Here’s what we want from you.”
- Both sides hope the report vindicates their position. They cannot both be right, though each side will claim victory.
- No one criticizes you if you vote for something that ain’t gonna happen. Moreover, no one criticizes you if you vote for something that does happen.
After the amount of bickering our representatives have to endure, between parties and within each party, members must have felt some relief that an easy vote came their way. Welcome break or not, their vote raises a hypothetical question: what if Mueller did release his entire report? He has two options, if he wants to do so: 1) release the entire report; 2) release an extended summary, and call it the entire report.
Nevertheless the team had to make choices. Interrogations, indictments, grand jury proceedings, subpoenas, and all things FBI take time and resources.
The main lesson from Mueller’s investigation so far is that Trump’s associates during the election run-up had a lot to worry about. If they had had sufficient foresight, they would have left Dodge the moment Trump fired Comey. “Time to tend to my business affairs abroad,” they might have thought. “Let me check up on my friends in Istanbul, see if they can recommend a good villa. It’s better than prison.” Operators connected to power, though, do not generally see themselves as vulnerable.
Mueller’s team had no reason to deny their employers’ wishes. The so-called investigators went after Trump’s associates with vigor, to make Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougall, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manfort, and Roger Stone, even more famous than they already were. Note, however, that Mueller’s team did not pursue members of Trump’s family. By the Code of the West, or the Pirate’s Code, they were off limits.
Nevertheless the team had to make choices. Interrogations, indictments, grand jury proceedings, subpoenas, and all things FBI take time and resources. The same goes for office break-ins, SWAT team arrests, press leaks, and pissing off the president. Every minute spent on one activity is a minute not spent on something else. In this case, Mueller’s team had to decide how to conduct the investigation that Congress actually funded, that is, a search to discover the extent and nature of foreign attempts to influence the 2016 election.
Interestingly, Obama and his intelligence agencies concluded five months before Mueller’s appointment that Russian intelligence had in fact interfered with the election.
To judge from what passes for news in DC these days, the team reached one or more of the following conclusions:
- Not much there, or at least not much of significance.
- Significant evidence of foreign influence exists, but it is hard to obtain, as it exists largely overseas, in countries and organizations that are disorganized, fragmented, secretive, and unfriendly.
- We can obtain evidence of foreign influence, but it is way too complicated to share in our political environment.
- If the Department of Justice – the FBI in particular – wants us to go after the president via his associates, that is what we will do.
So Mueller and his minions had a number of excuses – rationales sounds better – to punt the part of the investigation that might have turned up impeachable offenses in Trump World. Make no mistake, that was the underlying mission on May 10, 2017, the day after Trump fired James Comey: find a way to fire Trump. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the recently completed election. If Mueller could prove that Trump had colluded with the Russians to defeat Clinton, Trump would be gone.
Interestingly, Obama and his intelligence agencies concluded five months before Mueller’s appointment that Russian intelligence had in fact interfered with the election. On December 29, 2016, Obama made his accusation public, and expelled thirty-five Russian diplomats to show both his level of confidence in the evidence, and his level of indignation. Yet he presented no evidence for his accusation – only his declaration that the FBI and CIA had assured him. Given the reputation of these two agencies in our political system, President Putin may have smiled as he welcomed his diplomats back home.
If Mueller knows more than we think, perhaps he has hidden that portion of the investigation from Congress and his other constituents until now.
Into this evidence-free stew of accusations steps Mueller, tasked with making sense of what actually happened. If Obama was right, then tell us how they did it. Tell us whether Republican operators who wanted to elect Trump assisted Fancy Bear and other putative hackers. Did they launder money, leak crucial information, embarrass Democrats with information gained from Russian intrusion, or otherwise collude with Russian intelligence? Well we have about six thousand tweets from the president himself to prove his case, or at least to know his opinion: NO COLLUSION. Sad.
Why is it sad? Because we have no more evidence now than we did when Podesta’s email messages started to appear at WikiLeaks shortly before the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. To cause trouble during the summer months, Russian intelligence had to gear up in the spring, three years ago. FBI and CIA kick in their counter-intelligence efforts right away, to prevent intrusion. They keep their efforts secret so the Russians don’t know that we know. You don’t want to reveal your sources and methods. That’s how it all works. Yet here we are, spring of 2019, and no one knows anything – not even Mueller.
Mueller’s indictments of Trump’s associates exactly fit the unwritten aim of the investigation: let Trump and his people know they cannot act with impunity.
If Mueller knows more than we think, perhaps he has hidden that portion of the investigation from Congress and his other constituents until now. If so, do you think a unanimous vote on the House floor will make him reconsider? If he has not hidden that portion of the investigation, because he has virtually nothing to report in that area, the House vote will certainly have no effect. Mueller cannot reveal information he does not have. The odd thing is, both parties in Congress already know Mueller has nothing new to report. Both parties believe ‘nothing new’ supports their own position. So why not vote for the resolution?
During his fifteen minutes of infamy, Andy McCabe proudly pointed to Mueller’s investigation as proof of his own foresight. With Mueller’s appointment, McCabe shrewdly institutionalized Trump’s comeuppance for firing FBI Director James Comey. In that light, Mueller’s indictments of Trump’s associates exactly fit the unwritten aim of the investigation: let Trump and his people know they cannot act with impunity.
Yet nothing even suggests this unwritten purpose in Mueller’s charter. You know, however, that when Mueller goes after Trump’s fixer with campaign finance charges over hush money paid to Trump’s mistress, we are not talking about Russian interference anymore. We are talking about a waste of resources.
Near the end of Mueller’s investigation, McCabe goes on a book tour to say that the investigation was all about retribution from the beginning.
We can thank Mr. McCabe and his book for setting us straight. McCabe and his estimable colleague, Peter Strzok, remind us why the FBI bungles practically every task it has ever undertaken. It is so caught up with its image, bureaucratic infighting, secret investigations, and other nonsense that it cannot begin to focus on its actual job.
Near the end of Mueller’s investigation, McCabe goes on a book tour to say that the investigation was all about retribution from the beginning. If wearing a wire is not a great idea, and the 25th Amendment is even worse, well then, a special prosecutor ought to serve the purpose. Comey may be out of a job, but at least Mueller can try to keep the president in line. The FBI and CIA will never reveal what they know about Russian intelligence. Therefore Mueller has Justice raid Cohen’s offices. You have to show some activity.
For his part, Mueller ought to have compared his written instructions with his investigation’s actual aims long before now. If he thinks about differences between his official charter and why his former FBI colleagues called him in, he might not find himself entertaining a unanimous vote to release information he does not possess. He has all these indictments to show for his work, and only one inconsequential charge pertains to Russian interference in the presidential election! Did he not perceive, after leading the FBI all those years, that the bureau’s incompetence and practices would inevitably affect his entire team?
Unrelated quote from the college admission scandal
There manifestly is a separate system for the wealthy that is beyond any prosecutor’s power to end. The prosecutions are in reality about acts of fraud that were committed against the universities. As interim USC president Wanda Austin put it in an email to students, “USC is the victim.” The university is supposed to be able to sell spots, not have its employees skim its profits.