The Russia Investigation Was Not A Hoax
It's amazing/depressing that four years after the Mueller Report was released this still needs to be pointed out.
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A funny thing happened after I wrote this post on Tuesday and was about to hit “send” … my editor at MSNBC asked me to write something on this exact topic. So here’s the MSNBC column, but I’ve posted what I originally wrote below.
“If We Had Confidence That The President Clearly Did Not Commit A Crime, We Would Have Said So.” - Robert Mueller, May 2019.
Yesterday, special prosecutor John Durham released the final report from his investigation of the Russia/Trump inquiry — and the less said about it, the better. As the Washington Post noted, “Much of the FBI conduct described by the Durham report was previously known and had been denounced in a 2019 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which did not find ‘documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct.’” Even the major bombshell from the report — Durham’s conclusion that the FBI should never have opened the Trump inquiry — is contradicted in the last few pages of the report.
The Durham investigation was, at its core, a transparent effort — launched by former Attorney General Bill Barr — to discredit the Robert Mueller-led investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. That is also why Durham’s investigation amounted to so little — and his report is so inconsequential: the Russia investigation wasn’t a hoax.
Contrary to the repeated claims of Donald Trump and his enablers, the Mueller Report did not exonerate the president of wrongdoing.
You don’t have to believe me — here is Robert Mueller saying it under oath.
In fact, the Mueller Report remains a singularly damning indictment of Trump. It highlighted repeated instances of the former president of the United States and current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination colluding with Russian officials and repeatedly obstructing justice (a felony) as president.
As a candidate for office, Trump openly “welcomed” Russian interference. He publicly called on Moscow to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and his campaign staff put together a “messaging strategy” around e-mails from Clinton’s aides published by Wikileaks and hacked by the Russians. And according to former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, Trump likely knew in advance about the Wikileaks data dump.
Perhaps the most obvious example of Russian collusion is that Paul Manafort shared internal polling data with individuals who had ties to Russian intelligence officials.
In short, Trump and those around him actively tried to profit off and encourage Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But that’s not even half of it. Mueller’s Report also highlighted ten separate incidents of Trump obstructing justice.
As president, Trump repeatedly tried to put an end to the Russia investigation. He sought to fire Mueller, though he was talked out of it. He tried to convince former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself and, when that didn’t work, enlisted others, including his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to do it for him.
He pushed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to falsify records that would help obstruct Mueller’s investigation. In addition, he dangled pardons for those caught up in the investigation, and over and over, he lied to the public.
Yet, all of this information has been swept down the memory hole. Not only is it forgotten, but Trump and his fellow Republicans regularly claim that the Mueller Report exonerated the former president and that the entire investigation was a hoax. Indeed, the response to the Durham Report’s listless confusion featured more of the same, as sitting members of Congress fell over themselves on social media to falsely declare that the real outrage of the Russia investigation was the inquiry itself — not the findings of presidential misconduct.
It’s not just Republicans. Democrats have largely forgotten about the Mueller Report as well, even though back in the Fall of 2019 (before the whistleblower revelations about Trump holding military aid to Ukraine hostage), more than half the members of the Democratic congressional caucus called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open impeachment proceedings over the conclusions of the Mueller Report. But, of course, no part of the Russia investigation ended up in the impeachment inquiry.
One of the major conclusions of the Mueller Report was that Trump could not be criminally prosecuted while in office, but after losing reelection, all bets were off. But there has been no effort to hold him criminally liable for the ten incidents of obstruction of justice that Mueller outlined in his report. I get that with Trump, there’s a lot of criminal behavior to investigate, but the Mueller Report lays out Trump’s potential criminal liability in excruciating detail. Yet, the dominant narrative is that he did nothing wrong, and the Russia investigation was a hoax — and no one is clamoring to hold him criminally responsible for his behavior. When Republicans regularly and falsely claim that the Mueller investigation found no wrongdoing, they rarely get pushback from reporters or pundits. It’s not just another GOP talking point.
So the real bombshell of the Durham Report isn’t that Trump was investigated over Russian collusion in the first place: it’s that no one seems to care that he repeatedly broke the law. But Durham’s efforts can’t obscure the truth: that collusion really happened and that Trump went to extraordinary and criminal lengths to keep it a secret.
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