HORIST: Unspinning the Russian investigation
I often reflect on Chico Marx’s comment in Duck Soup because it is so apt to our political life. We are constantly encouraged to believe what we are told (by the media) rather than trust what we see with our own eyes. This is so true in terms of this multi-year, multi-faceted, so-called Russian investigation.
Let’s start with some facts and even highly probable realities which we can only surmise from facts. Did Russians meddle in our 2016 election? That answer is a solid yes. We had a lot of testimony to that fact, but now we have the details in the form of an indictment.
Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians in their meddling? Despite the constant intimations or even outright claims by the media, there has yet been no evidence of such collusion. Trump critics say that there is no exculpating evidence that there was no collusion – a trick bag statement that relies on the fact that one cannot prove a negative. The same argument that there is no proof exonerating Trump & Co could logically be applied to Nancy Pelosi or the Pope.
In both the wording of the indictment and the spoken explanations by Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, there was no inculpatory evidence that any American was wittingly (meaning conspiratorially) involved in the Russian social media activities. It is safe to assume that “not any American” would include all those in the Trump campaign under the media-driven clouds of suspicion.
The previous indictment of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos provide no evidence of collusion either. Manafort and Gates are charged with crimes unrelated to issues of collusion or obstruction of justice, and Gates is reported to have a plea deal to flip on Manafort – that is still about the non-campaign charges. Flynn and Papadopoulos have confessed to lying to the FBI although we have no knowledge as to what those lies entailed. In and of themselves, these indictments do not support the anti-Trump political narrative even if it does find partisan footing in the less judicious court of public opinion.
Democrats and the media, who have seen their assertions of Trump collusion in the Russian meddling campaign crumbling with the latest indictments, now proffer the argument that the investigations are still ongoing so maybe – just maybe – evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice will yet be found. This is based on little more than hope, wishful thinking and political bias.
If we prognosticate on the basis of probabilities, collusion is less likely to come out of matters still being pursued by Special Counsel James Mueller – which have to do with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the use of that infamous dossier. If collusion had existed, it most likely would have been in the coordination of the social media and propaganda campaigns.
Presidential critics often support their accusations on an equally baseless claim that the Russians could not have carried out their disruptive social media efforts without the strategic help of the Trump campaign. That suggestion is downright silly. The Russians have been meddling in America, including our elections, since the 1950s. Their operatives know more about our electoral systems and communications than most Americans.
The almost two-year public media prosecution of the collusion case is now losing gravitas even among Trump critics. Even if there is no collusion, they argue, there is still obstruction of justice and the potential of Trump getting caught lying to the FBI or the Special Counsel. The never-Trump forces also hope that Mueller will trample down the path of potentially criminal business dealings – money laundering or secret Russian deals. At this juncture, there is no indication from the Sphinx-like Mueller that such a path will be pursued. It is only the Democrats and their friends in the media that are prodding for action in that direction.
If there are indictments associated with the Russian hacking of the DNC and they again absolve the Trump campaign of collusion, that could be the end of any need to interview Trump – essentially the end of any potential criminal charges against the President or the campaign.
At this juncture, there is no certainty that there will be any further indictments although it is not unreasonable to assume that there will be. Based on known facts, it is also not impossible that further indictments will come out against the Democrat side of the Russian controversy. It would appear on the surface that British agent and dossier author Christopher Steele could be handed an indictment for lying to the FBI. On the other hand, indicting foreign nationals of an adversary is not the same as indicting a foreign agent of an ally. Just because Steele lied does not mean Mueller will pursue charges – it’s that old prosecutorial discretion.
The Steele dossier does create another avenue of potential Mueller interest. Was it the result of collusion between the Russians and the Clinton campaign? Was it inappropriately used to get a warrant to surveil the Trump campaign? There is growing evidence that top Obama aides, and maybe the President himself, were in on the use of the dossier for political purposes before and after the 2016 election. Republicans and Democrats have diametrically opposing views on the subject, which suggests no one really knows. That could still come under the Mueller microscope.
Whether Mueller will pursue the entire issue of Democrat collusion with the Russians is unknown, but clearly, he has the authority to do so. The dodgy relationships between, Steele, the DNC, Clinton campaign operatives and the consulting firm of Clinton Campaign Chairman Robert Podesta raise a sufficient number of red flags to warrant a look-see. When it comes to these issues, the Democrats dismiss the very idea as conspiratorial crap and the media engages in in investigative hypocrisy by demonstrating a disturbing lack of interest. That will not stop Mueller if there is any low-hanging evidentiary fruit to be plucked, however.
Another area that can be explored is the Obama administration’s handling of the Ruskies. The Mueller indictment put the onset time of the most recent Russian activities in 2014. In a recent interview, James Clapper, who was director of the National Intelligence Agency at the time, said he was unaware of Russian activity until 2015. That raises a couple questions. Why was he unaware of activities that Mueller uncovered four years later? And … if Clapper was aware starting in 2015, what was done about it?
We know that Obama was well aware in 2016 because he said as much. So, what did he do about what has been characterized as “an act of war?” In response to that question, Obama said he “told Putin to stop it.” He later explained that he did not wish to take further action against Russian meddling in our election because it might have an impact on the election – as if that makes any sense at all. In other words, Obama placed politics ahead of national security.
If I were to make predictions on what I know now, I believe there will never be an impeachment or removal of President Trump from office. If there is no indictment for criminal collusion, I doubt there will be any charges of obstruction of justice against the President because of prosecutorial discretion.
While technically, charges of obstruction or lying can be leveled even if the central crime is not pursuable, but that is up to the prosecutor. Mueller would have to determine if any potential subsidiary technical crimes were worth the political fallout, including kicking off a destructive political debate over an unlikely impeachment. You will recall that FBI Director James Comey read a litany of misconducts against Hillary Clinton but recommended against criminal prosecution – which, itself, was a peculiar move since it was beyond his authority to make such a determination. The role of the FBI is to present the facts to the Department of Justice, and the DOJ is to decide whether a criminal case should be pursued.
Then there is the Trump factor. The President has proclaimed his innocence as often as the Democrats and the press have proclaimed his guilt. It is a verbal ping-pong match that has grown tiresome. While everyone agrees that we all must wait to see what Mueller come up with, no one waits.
The President’s problem is his lack of clarity and consistency in his tweets and ad-libbed comments. His allies claim that when Trump calls the Russian investigation a hoax and a witch hunt, he is referring only to the claims of collusion. Though they get conveniently lost in the media narrative, Trump has said on a few occasions that he believes the Russians have meddled, but not with his collusion or to the point of changing the outcome. This seems to be supported by the fact that virtually every person he has appointed to relevant offices has said the Russians are guilty and he has never publicly admonished them. Unfortunately, he tends to blurt out things that make his critic’s criticisms credible.
Then there is the question of the purpose of the Russian meddling. The never-Trumpers contend that it was to get Trump elected because they have a special relationship with him. The Mueller indictment tells a different story. It appears that the primary purpose of the Russian meddling was to sow general chaos in the American political scene. It is reasonably argued that they wanted to undermine the anticipated Clinton presidency. We should not forget that virtually no one, and surely not the Russians, expected Trump to win the election.
The general chaos theory gains credence in the fact that some of the Russian meddling was in opposition to Trump. There was also meddling to boost both Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein in their efforts to bloody up Clinton. In other words, the Russians were simply hoping to spread as much chaos, disruption and discord in America as possible in a bipartisan way.
If that is the case, as it seems to be, they may have racked up their greatest victory with the elitist media as unwitting participants. Much of the turbulence we see in the political atmosphere today is not from the Democrats or Republicans, who are playing their partisan roles, but the media that has abandoned its critical role as the honest purveyor of news. In many ways, the Fourth Estate as bought into the Russian propaganda. Methinks that Trump is correct in saying that the boys in the Kremlin are laughing their asses off as they watch us disintegrate into tribal warfare over their meddling mischief.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.