Saturday, April 20, 2019

Our take on the Mueller Report: Clear Case of Obstruction, but not Collusion

On reading the entire report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, here are two takeaways:
Obstruction of justice is clear and inescapable (see Volume II.)
Russian collusion, not so much. (See Volume I.)
You can find the full text of the redacted Mueller Report at numerous sites. Hereʻs CNNʻs. 
Iʻm not sure how many people talking about the report actually read its hundreds of pages. I did, and from my reading, there are three key points on two overarching topics: Russian interference and obstruction of justice.
1. There was ample evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election;
2. There was a lot of evidence that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to damage Hillary Clintonʻs campaign and to bolster Trumpʻs. Thatʻs what the President is calling collusion. But thereʻs not a lot of evidence they did it knowingly.
3. On obstruction of justice—mainly all the things President Trump to interfere with the investigation—the case is absolutely clear. There was a lot of evidence.
Mueller laid out all the facts and legal arguments needed to reach a conviction on obstruction, but he stopped short of declaring guilt, noting that a sitting president canʻt be prosecuted.
In count after count, Mueller laid out each of the three elements needed to convict. The three are: An overt act of obstruction; Whether that act was tied to an official proceeding; and Whether the obstruction was done with intent.
Here is just one of the many counts, recounted briefly, from Vol. II, P. 12, and Vol II, PP. 44-46:
Obstructive Act: The President repeatedly asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn for lying to the FBI.
Nexus to a proceeding: There was evidence President Trump had been informed that there was a likelihood of prosecution of Flynn over Russian issues.
Intent: The President told others that he wanted to end the Russia investigation.
Thatʻs just one of many counts. Here is another, from Vol. II, PP. 77-90:
Obstructive Act: The President ordered several officials to fire Mueller.
Nexus to a proceeding: The President knews that Mueller was investigating him for federal crimes, including the previous firing of the FBI director.
Intent: "Substantial evidence indicates that the President's attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel's oversight of investigations that involved the President's conduct-and, most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice."
So, why didnʻt Mueller take the next step and declare outright that the President had obstructed justice?
He pretty much did, but he did it oddly.
"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the  facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," Mueller said.
A reasonable plain language translation of that would be, "If he were innocent weʻd say so, and weʻre not, so heʻs not."
So Mueller didnʻt outright say the President is guilty. What Mueller did say, in case after case,  was that it takes three things to prove obstruction, and he had all three things."
The Russian interference case is a little less clear.
Mueller clearly lays out the many ways in which the Russian government actively interfered—hacking websites (Vol.1, P. 36), recruiting Americans (Vol.1, P. 31), arranging public rallies (Vol.1, P. 29), using social media to promote pro-Trump and anti-Clinton themes (Vol.1, P. 26), and so on.
And lots of Trump campaign personnel were meeting with lots of Russians, were doing what Russians were asking them to do, and were passing campaign information to Russians. Although that sounds like coordination, Mueller says it is at least possible that some Trump organization people werenʻt aware that they were doing Russian bidding.
Examples of some of the links between Russia and the Trump organization:
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort gave Russians Trump campaign internal polling data on the states where the Trump campaign needed help. (Vol.1, P. 140)
Russians asked the Trump campaign to help promote Russiaʻs social media activity, and the Trump campaign then tweeted links to Russian-controlled sites. (Vol.1, P. 33) Both President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. were among those tweeting and retweeting Twitter posts (Vol.1, P. 34) prepared by the Russian Internet Research Agency.
What is not clear is whether the Trump campaign always knew that they were responding to and retweeting Russian disinformation.
Mueller concluded that there wasnʻt enough evidence to file criminal charges:
"The investigation did not...yield evidence sufficient to sustain any charge that any individual affiliated with the Trump Campaign acted as an agent of a foreign principal," the report says.
Thereʻs our conclusion: Mueller has laid out a clear case of obstruction, not so clear on collusion.
©Jan TenBruggencate 2019

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