For the last two years, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian Collusion dominated headlines. Now, the investigation is over, but plenty of questions and controversies remain.
A Recap of the Investigation
After the 2016 election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller began an investigation to answer the largest question following the 2016 election: did a foreign power collude with Trump’s presidential campaign to win the election? Since the Trump Administration’s inception, this case has picked apart those closest to the president. Over the two year period, 34 people were charged with a variety of crimes: tax evasion, money laundering, lying to Congress, illegal lobbying, campaign finance violations, obstruction of justice, and more.
The Major Players In The Investigation
Who Was Charged:
|Roger Stone||Trump Confidant||Lying to Congress||Trial set for November|
|Internet Research Agency||Russian troll farm||Distributing Russian propaganda by creating fake social media accounts||Unlikely to lead to trial in the U.S.|
|12 Russian military intelligence officers||Hackers who stole DNC and Clinton files, and worked with WikiLeaks to share the information with the public||Stealing Democratic emails||Unlikely to lead to trial in the U.S.|
Who Pleaded Guilty:
|Paul Manafort||Trump’s Campaign Chairman||Financial crimes, unregistered lobbying for a hostile foreign power, suborning perjury||Seven years in prison|
|Michael Flynn||Former National Security Advisor||Lying to investigators about conversations with then Russian ambassador||Cooperated with the investigation – little to no jail time|
|Michael Cohen||Trump’s Personal Lawyer||Financial crimes, campaign finance violations, lying to Congress||Pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project – agreed to cooperate with the investigation|
|Rick Gates||Trump Campaign Aid||Lying to investigators, conspiring to commit other offenses||Sentencing delayed for cooperating with the investigation|
|George Papadopoulos||Trump Campaign Advisor||Lying to investigators about contact with Russian agents||Two weeks in prison, a year of probation, and a fine|
These articles explain who Mueller indicted, why he investigated them, and the questions he attempted to answer over the last two years.
What Did Mueller Find?
On March 22nd, Special Counsel Mueller finished his investigation into Russian collusion and Attorney General William Barr released a four page summary of Mueller’s report. The summary stated: “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” In addition, Barr said that he and Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, determined there was insufficient evidence in Mueller’s report to charge the president with obstruction of justice — but Mueller did not exonerate Trump. In order to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, Mueller would have to find evidence that Trump acted with “corrupt intent” as he demeaned and demonized the investigation. Clearly, it is difficult to prove someone’s mindset.
- No collusion (according to Mueller and Barr)
- Not enough evidence to charge a sitting President with obstruction of justice (according to Barr)
The Report isn’t Out, but the Summary is
Without seeing the report, it is difficult for some to accept a cursory description of it by a Republican Trump appointed three months earlier to receive and summarize that report. Powerful Democrats, including House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer, have accused Barr of bias, citing a private memo Barr wrote before he became Attorney General, which criticized Mueller’s work, specifically his investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”
In March, both Schumer and Pelosi demanded the report be released to the public, and Barr said he plans to release it mid-April, after he edits it in order to keep secret any damaging information about figures who were not ultimately important to the investigation. Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler said, “as I informed the Attorney General earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report, without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2.” Clearly, that deadline has long expired, but Congress still demands the report without Barr’s edits in order to prevent any bias or the removal of evidence.
The Obstruction Question
Mueller looked at Trump’s attempts to control the investigation into his own conduct by allegedly asking FBI director Comey to pledge his loyalty to the president, then firing Comey, attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation, then firing Sessions, threatening to fire Mr. Mueller,and discussing presidential pardons with key witnesses, in the investigation. Mueller could neither exonerate Trump or recommend charges against him for obstructing justice. Ultimately, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, claimed the report cleared Trump.
The people who made the final call on obstruction were far from objective or disinterested observers. Barr had a history of criticizing Mueller and Rod Rosenstein oversaw the Mueller Investigation for several years despite being a material witness. Rosenstein recommended that Trump fire Comey, supposedly for mishandeling the Clinton email scandal. Trump did fire Comey and provided the Rosenstein rationale but later admitted he was motivated by Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation. According to The Hill, “Rosenstein was also a key player in some of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants targeting Trump campaign aides in the Russia investigation.” Interestingly, Justice Department officials said that Rosenstein participated in meetings that discussed removing Trump from office under the 25th Amendment. The outcome of the Mueller report would undoubtedly affect Rosenstein’s career and reputation due to his involvement. Rosenstein’s role in overseeing the investigation, his involvement in firing Comey, his opinions regarding the President, and his conclusion in Barr’s summary conflict each other.
What is the Right Saying? What is the Left Saying? What is America Saying?
|Debate||Right||Left||Americans In General|
|Russia created and spread fake news stories to help Trump win the election
|26% of Republicans agree||89% of Democrats agree||56% think it is “definitely” or “probably” true|
|Barr’s summary of the report has cleared the president’s name
|68% of Republicans agree||9% of Democrats agree||40% said they think Barr’s summary of the report has not cleared the president’s name
29% said it did clear him
31% were unsure
|Mueller handled the investigation well
|Increased from 22% in February to 46% in March||Decreased from 77% in February to 62% in March|
|Did Trump Obstruct Justice?||No||Yes||47% think he did
39% think he didn’t
14% don’t know or had no opinion
|Should Congress continue to investigate whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia?||10% of Republicans say yes||65% of Democrats say yes||39% of the public says yes
47% of the public says no
On April 3rd, the Times suggested that Barr’s report shaped the public’s understanding of this investigation, which was one of the most “consequential government investigations in American history.” While this statement is correct as Barr’s summary was the first narrative of the Special Council’s findings, the above public opinion polls suggest that about 40% of Americans still don’t believe that the report cleared the president’s name. Moreover, about 47% of Americans still think he is guilty of obstructing justice. The Times also reported that members of Mueller’s team are unhappy with Barr’s summary, as he left out important details of the investigation. However, there is no way to confirm that statement while the report remains secret.
The House Judiciary Committee granted it’s Chairman Jerry Nadler subpoena power to obtain the full 400 page report, so Congress may receive it soon (or the Trump Administration may instead choose to trigger a constitutional crisis by refusing to turn it over). Since Mueller – a life-long Republican, appointed by Rosenstein (also a Republican), appointed by Trump to investigate Trump – could not exonerate the President of obstructing justice, this process may well continue. However, without the votes or overwhelming public support for impeachment, it is not clear what Democrats can gain by undertaking their own investigation.