The Mueller Report Translation: Part Two

Gabrielle Dolphin, CADC President

The Mueller Report has 11 (A-K) “Factual Results of Obstruction Investigation” and “L”, “Overarching considerations.  

A  Trump Campaign Response to Reports about Russia Support for Trump

Overview - During the 2016 campaign the media raised questions about a possible connection between the Trump Campaign and Russia.  Concerns intensified after WikiLeaks released democratic party emails reportedly hacked by Russia.  Trumps response to questions about connection to Russia was to deny any business involvement in Russia, even though the Trump Organization had pursued a business project in Russia as late as June 2016.  Trump expressed skepticism that Russia had hacked emails at the same time as he and other campaign advisors privately  sought information about further planned releases.  After the election, then President-elect Trump continued to deny any connections to Russia and privately was concerned that reports of Russian election interference might lead the public to question the legitimacy of his election.

Dec 2015 - Michael Flynn (briefly National Security Advisor to Donald Trump) was seated next to Putin at a Russia Today gala and appeared regularly on Russia Today TV as an analyst.

June 16th, 2015 Trump declares his intent to seek nomination as Republican candidate saying he would get along well with Russian President Putin, questioned the NATO alliance as obsolete and praised Putin as a “strong leader.”  Press reports Russian political analysts and commentators perceive Trump as favorable to Russia.  As the campaign started to unfold the media raised questions about connection between the Trump Campaign and Russia.  

March 2016 Press reports Carter Page has ties to Russian state-run gas company in Ukraine. Page is an American petroleum industry consultant and a former foreign policy adviser to Trump during 2016 campaign.

June 2016 - Candidate Trump denies any business involvement in Russia even though the Trump Organization has pursued a business project in Russia as late as June 2016 (Trump Tower Moscow).

June 9, 2016  - The Trump Tower meeting took place in New York City between three senior members of the 2016 Trump Campaign and Donald Trump Jr.,(Trump’s Son) Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law) and Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman) – and at least five other people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.  The meeting was arranged by publicist and long-time Trump acquaintance Rob Goldstone on behalf of his client, Russian singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov.  This meeting was disclosed to U.S. government officials when Kushner filed a revised version of his security clearance form.            

June 14, 2016 - Press reports allege links between Trump Campaign and Russia.  Cybersecurity firm analyzed Democratic National Committee and announced Russian Government hackers had infiltrated DNC computer obtaining access to documents.

July 2016 - Campaign chairman Paul Manafort had done work for the “Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.”

July 22, 2016 -  The day before Democratic National Convention, Wikileaks posts thousands of hacked DNC documents.

July 26, 2016 – New York Times reports US intelligence agencies told White House they had ‘high confidence’ that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents. Trump Campaign aides react with enthusiasm to reports of hacks.  Unnamed person discussed with Trump Campaign the WikiLeaks would be releasing hacked materials.  Some thought Trump himself discussed the possibility of upcoming releases.   Trump tweets: it was “crazy to suggest that Russia dealing with Trump” and that “for the record,” he had “ZERO investments in Russia.”  

July 27, 2016  -  In his own press conference Trump characterized “this whole thing with Russia” as “a total deflection” and stated that it was “farfetched” and “ridiculous”.   Trump said the assertion Russia had hacked emails was unproven but said it would give him “no pause” if Russia had Clinton’s emails.  Trump added, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30, 000 emails that are missing.  

He stated that the “closest he came to Russia” was that Russians may have purchased a home or condos from him.  He said that after he held the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 he had been interested in working with Russian companies that “wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia, but it never worked out explaining, “frankly, I didn’t want to do it for a couple of reasons. But we had a major developer…that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.” The Trump Organization however had been pursuing a building project in Moscow – the Trump Tower Moscow project – from approximately September 2015 through June 2016 and the candidate was regularly updated on developments, including possible trips by Michael Cohen to Moscow to promote the deal and by Trump himself to finalize it.

August 2016 - J.D. Gordon (one time National Security Advisor to Trump) declines invitation to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s residence because “timing not optimal”.

August 19, 2016 - Manafort was asked to resign as campaign chairman amid media coverage scrutinizing his ties to pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and links to Russian business.

Sept 7, 2016 - Carter Page was terminated, and press told he played “no role in the campaign.”

Oct 7, 2016 - Wikileaks released first set of emails stolen by Russian intelligence agency (John Podesta’s files with Clinton campaign).

Oct 7, 2016 - Federal Government announced, “Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions including from US political , concluding, “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities” based on their “scope and sensitivity.”

October 11, 2016 – Clinton campaign manager Podesta publicly stated the FBI was investigating Russia’s hacking and said that Candidate Trump might have known in advance that the hacked emails were going to be released.

November 8th, 2016 – Trump elected President.

Nov 10, 2016.  Russian officials tell press that Russian government had contacts with Trump’s “immediate entourage” during the campaign.   Hope Hicks, Trump campaign spokesperson responded: “we are not aware of any campaign representatives being in touch with foreign entities.”  There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.

December 10, 2016.  Press reports US intelligence concluded Russian interference in November’s presidential election to boost Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.  

December 11, 2016 – President-elect Trump reacted said, “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse.”   “No one knew who was responsible for the hacking saying the intelligence community had no idea if it was Russia, China or a 400 pound many sitting on a bed in his parents’ basement.”

Dec 18, 2016.  Podesta  (Clinton campaign manager) tells press election was “distorted by the Russian intervention”’ questions whether Trump Campaign had been “in touch with the Russians.”  

Dec 18, 2016.     Reince Priebus on Fox News declines to say if President-elect accepted the intelligence community’s report that Russia intervened in the election adding, “this whole thing is a spin job” and “the real question is why the Democrats are (trying) to delegitimize the outcome of the election.”

December 29, 2016 -  Obama administration announced sanctions and other measures on several Russian oligarchs and entities in response to Russia cyber operations against our US election.  Trump responded: “I think we ought to et on with our lives” but said he would meet with the intelligence community for a briefing on the matter.  

January 6, 2017 –  An intelligence briefing occurred, and the intelligence community released a public version of its assessment. It concluded with high confidence that Russia had intervened in the 2016 presidential election using a variety of means with the goal of harming Clinton’s electability.  Their assessments further concluded with high confidence that Putin and the Russian government had developed a clear preference for Trump.

January 9, 2017 (approx.) – BuzzFeed published unverified allegations (gathered by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele) in a report entitled, “These Reports Allege Trump has Deep Ties to Russia.”

January 10, 2017 – Trump calls the release of the BuzzFeed report “an absolute disgrace” and said, “I have no dealings with Russia. I have no loans and I have no dealings.  We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don’t want to because I think that would be a conflict.”

Summary – Advisors recalled that the President-elect viewed stories about his Russian connections, the Russia investigation and the intelligence-community assessment of Russian interference as a threat to the legitimacy of his electoral victory.   Hope Hicks (Communications Director) viewed the intelligence community assessment as Trump’s ”Achilles heel” because even if Russia had no impact on the election, people would think Russia helped Trump win, taking away from what he had accomplished.  Sean Spicer (first White House communications director, recalled the President thought the Russia story was developed to undermine the legitimacy of his election.  Gates (Political Consultant) said Trump felt the intelligence investigation was an attack on the legitimacy of his win.  Reince Priebus (former Chief of staff for Trump and also served as Chair of the Republican National Committee) said the President-elect was concerned people would question the legitimacy of his win.

The Mueller Report Translation: Part One

Gabrielle Dolphin, CADC Club President

In the course of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the President of the United States took actions towards an on-going FBI investigation that raised questions about whether he had obstructed justice.

 Criminal investigations usually result in a thumbs up or thumbs down “binary” choice - either charge or don’t charge based on the evidence discovered. We were stunned to learn from the start that no charges would be brought regarding obstructive actions by Trump. Why?  Because a sitting President is qualitatively different and cannot be charged.

Mueller had no choice in the matter and said so.   The policy blocking a sitting president from being charged dates to President Nixon.  In September 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal,  the DOJ’s office of Legal Counsel said that a criminal case against Nixon “would interfere with the President’s unique official duties, most of which cannot be performed by anyone else.”

Mueller was an employee of the Department of Justice and duty bound to follow established DOJ guidelines.  From the outset Mueller’s team acknowledged the limitations imposed on their work stating   a) “indicting or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the Executive Branch to perform its constitutionally assigned function.”  

Mueller went further saying in the interest of fairness, charging a sitting President would deny due process.  Due process of course is the constitutional right of every American citizen to have the “state” respect legal rights which include the right to a speedy and public trial. 

Why would charging Trump deny him due process? Because there are no courts to which the President can turn for redress.  Why? Because our legal system does not assign courts to handle this type of  “crime.” Why?  Here’s the main point:  our Founders made it abundantly clear that it is the sole responsibility of CONGRESSthrough the process of IMPEACHMENT to address presidential abuse of power.  The House draws up “articles of impeachment” (indicts) and the Senate holds the trial.  Not Mueller, his investigative team, the Attorney General, Supreme Court nor any court in the land has the power, authority and duty to investigate, charge and try presidential abuses of power.  The responsibility rests solely with Congress.  

Given both legal and constitutional constraints Mueller’s “double-negative” legalese conclusions can be better understood:  

“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.” And,

“while this report does NOT state outright “the President did not commit a crime,” it also DOES NOT EXONERATE him.”

How then to proceed?

Mueller’ work began in complicated times, a time where social and political forces challenge and even threaten what remains of our democratic philosophy and institutions.  With norms and rules of expected behavior and shared belief falling to the wayside at a record pace, we can only hope our institutions will hold against the daily assault.  There will be no going back.

The Special Prosecutor placed his trust in our legal system and the Constitution.  He framed his investigation in a way he thought safe and unimpeachable, a path based on Supreme Court precedent that governs “separation of powers.”  Mueller gave a somber nod to the fact that only Congress has the Constitutional authority to try and convict a sitting president.  

The Mueller team would investigate and turn the investigation over to Congress.  The only problem?  There was  a newly hired Attorney General, William Barr, who took Mueller’s report and, before you and I could look at it,  launched his own narrative and conclusion upon the tide of public opinion.    

We continue to reel with confusion over Barr’s act of obstruction. 

As the investigation began, the President agreed to answer written questions on certain Russia-related topics.  He did not agree to provide written answers to questions on obstruction or questions on events during the transition to his inauguration.  

The Special Investigator had the authority and legal justification to issue a grand jury subpoena to obtain the President’s testimony, but they chose not to.  With Trump’s litigious character, the delay in the investigation was not worth it.  Mueller also believed they had enough evidence to understand relevant events and make certain assessments without the President’s testimony. This was based on the significant body of evidence they had already obtained of the President’s actions and public and private statements describing or explaining those actions.