Over the course of more than 400 scalding pages, the Mueller report details the parallel and often cooperative course traveled by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the sophisticated Russian operation devoted to his victory. Mueller’s report also lays out the myriad ways Trump obstructed justice through his ham-fisted attempts to either take over the investigation or obliterate it entirely.
There is but one conclusion to reach after reading this exhaustively prepared report: Donald Trump must be impeached. There is no more time for vacillation, and no room for doubt.
The report is divided into two distinct hemispheres: Volume I deals with the Russian attack on the 2016 presidential election and the question of Trump campaign participation in that attack, and Volume II deals with the manner in which Donald Trump actively obstructed the investigation into Russian election meddling.
Many of the report’s details have been in the public sphere for months and even years. Having it all in one place, however, gives the document the depth and gravity of gruesome history. There are also plenty of new and alarming surprises. It is atomically detailed and deeply sourced, ultimately conservative in its conclusions regarding the law but profoundly damning nonetheless.
Donald Trump was right to fear its release, and after reading it, I believe those fears are only just beginning.
The Redactions and a Brobdingnagian Caveat
Like many, I expected the worst regarding what Attorney General William Barr would do with his redaction pen. It is difficult to determine how damaging the redactions are. Simply put, they happened, and until congressional Democrats win a court fight to get the full report, or until someone leaks it, this is what we’re stuck with. While the report was not as “lightly redacted” as The Washington Post let on, it was not the slab of black ink I was afraid it would be.
Many of the redactions fall into the category of “Harm to Ongoing Matter,” which I’m at peace with; Mueller has referred some 14 matters to outside agencies for further investigation, and we certainly don’t want to mess with those. “Grand Jury” and “Investigative Technique” redactions are widely prevalent and occasionally overwhelming; pages 15-59 of Volume I look like a truck ran over them, and page 30 of that section appears to be a picture of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s no there, there.
The deeply worrisome “Personal Privacy” redactions are few and far between, yet some are highly suspicious. Even in the table of contents where the names of those investigated for obstruction are listed, a big, fat “Personal Privacy” redaction line obscures what I am confident is the name “Donald Trump.” The bulk of Volume II, which deals with obstruction of justice, is largely untouched.
Beyond the redactions, there is this bit of trouble squatting at the bottom of page 10 in Volume I:
[T]he Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated — including some associated with the Trump Campaign — deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.
Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report. (Emphasis added.)
It is difficult to read “Yeah, but” without expecting the next sentence to read, “Everything after this might only be half the story.” You could charge a regiment of Roman cavalry through the hole that statement creates. A careful reading of the entire report, particularly the section on obstruction of justice in Volume II, leaves the definite impression that this caveat was not included in some oh-by-the-way fashion. Mueller and his people knew they were dealing with a pack of practiced liars, and wanted us to know that they knew. Now we know, but yeah, we knew that already.
“Collusion” Isn’t an Actual Thing
The opening sentence of the first operative paragraph in the introduction to Volume I makes no bones about it: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” The body of Volume I proceeds in excruciating and often deeply disturbing detail to explain how the St. Petersburg, Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) conducted an incredibly effective and well-informed assault upon online political discussion in the United States, and through that effort attacked and undermined the legitimacy of the election itself.
The IRA did its damage by exploiting racial tensions over police violence against people of color (using social media accounts named “Black Matters” and “Don’t Shoot Us”), immigration (“Stop All Invaders,” “Secured Borders), religion (“United Muslims of America”), LGBTQ+ issues (“LGBT United”), dislike for then-candidate Hillary Clinton (“HillaryClintonForPrison2016”) and other areas of social and political friction. According to the report, the IRA’s efforts on Facebook alone may have reached as many as 126 million people.
Simultaneously with the IRA’s efforts, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) pulled off what may go down as the most impactful computer hack in history. GRU agents vacuumed up thousands of Clinton campaign emails, including many from campaign chairman John Podesta, and funneled them into the public sphere through cutouts like WikiLeaks.
The most impactful WikiLeaks document dump of these Clinton campaign emails came hours after the release of the infamous TMZ recording of Trump bragging about his serial sexual assaults on women. The report strongly suggests that senior players within the campaign, including Trump’s adviser and ally Roger Stone and perhaps even Trump himself, knew the WikiLeaks dump was coming. In fact, Russian hackers went after Clinton’s emails five hours after Trump specifically asked for Russia’s help in getting hold of them.
The Russian action against the 2016 election went far beyond fake Twitter accounts and hacked emails. “By the summer of 2016,” reads the report, “GRU officers sought access to state and local computer networks by exploiting known software vulnerabilities on websites of state and local governmental entities.”
“In August 2016, GRU officers targeted employees of [REDACTED],” continues the report, “a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network.”
It was beyond Mueller’s purview to investigate whether these efforts were successful, but make no mistake: Russian agents did not simply want to sow discord. They were looking to flip votes in favor of Donald Trump.
Despite the glaring instances of the Trump campaign and Russian agents working toward the same goal, the Mueller report clearly states that the activities of the campaign did not rise to their standard for what would constitute criminal activity. “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome,” reads the report, “and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Trump and his allies made much of the last 23 words of that sentence, but the investigation and subsequent report set a high bar for what amounted to criminal activity. The Trump campaign itself, for example, did not engineer the IRA’s social media disinformation campaign, nor did they themselves hack into the Clinton campaign’s computers. According to Mueller, that means no crimes were committed.
Page 2 of Volume I, however, dryly notes that collusion “is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.” Despite Trump’s interminable claims of “no collusion,” the report makes it abundantly clear that, in the matter of the 2016 election, the Trump campaign left hand knew full well what the Russian right hand was up to, and often cheered it on in broad daylight (“Russia, if you’re listening,” etc.)
In its totality, Volume I paints a frightening picture of exactly how deftly Russian agents were able to upend a presidential election. The report slaps aside the entire concept of “collusion” as any sort of legal metric, but falls just short of stating that it was the president in the drawing room with the candlestick.
In the end, it will come as little surprise that most of the reason the Trump campaign’s efforts to gain Russian assistance failed to rise to the level of criminal conspiracy was because they weren’t clever enough to pull it off. There was no conspiracy because they screwed it up, but they damn sure tried.
It is also of vital note that everyone should read the first 60 pages of the Mueller report while fully aware of the fact that Trump stoutly refused to acknowledge the existence of Russian interference with the 2016 election for years, and has done virtually nothing to ensure such interference is thwarted in 2020.
The Russian operation against the 2016 election was a masterpiece, and certainly helped swing the election in Trump’s favor. His refusal to admit that it happened, and his failure to try and keep it from happening again, is one of the main reasons why this investigation was undertaken in the first place.
Oodles and Oodles of Obstruction
Volume II of the Mueller report is nothing less than a categorical astonishment. A majority of the evidence regarding Trump’s serial obstructions of justice has been in the public sphere for a while now, but because of the avalanche of scandal that has become our daily gruel, much of it has fallen down the memory hole.
“If the American public or members of Congress were learning these things for the first time,” writes Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman for The New York Times, “the political fallout would normally be devastating.” I’ve been saying it for years and will say it again: None of this is normal. Perhaps the greatest service Robert Mueller and his team performed for the country was to put it all in one place, organized and explained with lethal precision.
Mueller and his team deliberately refused to flatly assert that Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the investigation, because Mueller did not believe doing so fell under the rubric of his constitutional authority. “With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution,” reads the report, “we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” (Emphasis added)
Despite this caveat, the report does not tiptoe around the fact that Trump obstructed justice in the matter of the Russia investigation with dreary regularity. His obstruction kicked into high gear after he learned that he was the subject of an obstruction investigation after he fired FBI Director James Comey – itself an act of obstruction — but thwarting the investigation was his objective from the moment Mueller was appointed.
Where to begin?
Trump obstructed justice when he ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn II, to fire Robert Mueller, which he refused to do; McGahn threatened to resign if Trump persisted, and Trump ultimately relented. “The evidence indicates that news of the obstruction investigation prompted the President to call McGahn and seek to have the Special Counsel removed,” reads the report. In other words, Trump’s prior obstruction motivated his attempt to remove Mueller, which was another act of obstruction. Later, Trump obstructed justice by ordering McGahn to lie and say Trump never gave him the order to fire Mueller. Again, McGahn refused.
Trump obstructed justice when he attempted to convince then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal so he could take over the Russia investigation. “There is evidence that at least one purpose of the President’s conduct toward Sessions was to have Sessions assume control over the Russia investigation and supervise it in a way that would restrict its scope,” reads the report. “A reasonable inference from those statements and the President’s actions is that the President believed that an unrecused Attorney General would play a protective role and could shield the President from the ongoing Russia investigation.” Sessions refused.
If you are sensing a pattern here, you’re in good company; Robert Mueller saw it as well. “The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” reads the report, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” Had those persons carried out even a portion of the requests they refused, we would all be having a very different conversation.
These are but a few of the instances of obstruction delineated in the Mueller report, and that’s not even where the real thunder resides. Beginning on page 156 of Volume II and continuing to the conclusion, under the heading “Overarching Factual Issues,” the Mueller report thoroughly dismantles the argument that a sitting president is immune from prosecution for obstruction, and can be subject to such prosecution even if no underlying crime is established.
If you read only one portion of the report, I strongly advise you to make that portion pages 156-181 of the second volume. “Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests,” reads the report, “to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment.” Any of that sound familiar?
“The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same,” continues the report, “regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.”
The final sentence of the Mueller report reads, “And the protection of the criminal justice system from corrupt acts by any person — including the President — accords with the fundamental principle of our government that ‘no person in this country is so high that he is above the law.’”
Donald Trump obstructed justice, period. Beat that with a stick.
Bits and Pieces
What an astonishing mass of mendacity is William Barr. He presents himself as some kind of amiable spectacled dormouse with tenure at a small New England college, but his Thursday morning press conference performance on the eve of the report’s release gave even Trump a run for his money when it comes to the high art of unfettered bullshitting. Barr’s reputation is destroyed, and rightly so; this wasn’t the first time he has attempted an end run around the truth.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fares little better. The report details several occasions when she lied with deliberate intent about Trump’s actions pertaining to the investigation. “Slip of the tongue” and “heat of the moment,” my cracked arse.
Mr. Trump has friends in low places. According to a Politico report, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) was briefed along with other members of congressional leadership about the status of the Russia investigation in March 2017, specifically regarding who the principal subjects of the investigation were. Burr apparently fed those revelations to the White House counsel’s office. The spectacular absence of ethics or integrity evinced by most everyone in Trump’s orbit suffuses the report from beginning to end.
The End of the Beginning
“Only a terminal cynic,” wrote Hunter S. Thompson about the Watergate tapes, “can listen for any length of time to the real stuff without feeling a compulsion to do something like drive down to the White House and throw a bag of live rats over the fence.”
That pretty much sums it up from my side of the desk.
Trump has committed serial impeachable offenses, Robert Mueller has explained them down to the last molecule, and at long last the time has come for Congress to act and remove him from the office he has disgraced and despoiled.
There are no longer any excuses for inaction or deflection. Until now, the only things that have spared Trump from the consequences of his misconduct are the fact that time and again his staffers deliberately failed to follow his illegal orders, and the fact that Mueller left it to Congress to call what he did obstruction of justice.
That is what the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives must do now, regardless of the Republican status of the Senate. Begin the process, call the hearings, and let the chips fall where they may.
But will they? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dusted off her “Impeachment is off the table” routine, while Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) told CNN after the report’s release, “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.” This craven stance won’t sit well with a number of House Democrats, especially the committee chairs with subpoena power and the scent of blood in their nostrils.
Turn them loose. We are down to brass tacks with this thing, and inaction could very well shatter the Democratic caucus. The solution is not to go tharn and freeze like the rabbits of Watership Down. That’s how you get run over, right on that yellow line in the middle of the road.
Please, read it yourself. Here is a searchable version of the report to assist you in the endeavor. Read it all and then ask yourself: What should come next? What must come next? The answer to that question is as plain as the nose on your face, unredacted and uncompromising. Let the good fight begin.