The Trump Presidency is Over — Or the Rule of Law Is
The Mueller Report added an exclamation point to an unprecedented record of illiberalism.
On March 31, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump and a group of his advisors got together at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. to discuss foreign policy. One of those advisors, George Papadopoulos, fresh-off a meeting with a Russian professor, told the group that Russian officials wanted to set up a meeting with Trump. A month later, Papadopoulos heard that Russians possessed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and top-Trump officials soon got word.
Did Trump or anyone surrounding him alert the FBI or otherwise seem concerned that a foreign adversary was seeking to smear one of our country’s presidential candidates? No. To the contrary, Trump’s Campaign continued seeking Russian help, pushed forward with potentially lucrative business deals in Russia, coordinated the release of that dirt for maximum political gain, shared secret campaign information with Russian operatives, and orchestrated a massive, illegal cover-up to shield it all from the public’s view.
That is the story of Robert Mueller’s 448 page report. Plan and simple. That it doesn’t fit Mueller’s narrow definition of a conspiracy is neither surprising nor important. It is collusion. It is a scandal. It is massive corruption.
It is enough.
Much is being made of Mueller’s decision not to bring charges relating to a Trump-Russia conspiracy. But Mueller’s Report makes clear, early on, that the standard of criminality is awfully restrictive. Mueller “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’” Mueller also relied on a strict view of “coordination,” requiring “an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government.”
For those interested in whether an abuse of power beyond the bounds of acceptability has taken place — rather than whether a crime has technically occurred — these are not helpful standards. And given those parameters, it is not surprising that Mueller’s investigation did not result in conspiracy chargers: the question was never whether the Trump Campaign aided the substantive crimes of hacking American computers or spreading fraudulent news through social media, but whether the campaign aided and encouraged the information’s release.
The evidence itself tells a damning story. Mueller recounts how a young Trump advisor, George Papadopoulos, alerted the campaign of his contacts with Josef Mifsud, a Russian professor, and “kept the campaign appraised of his efforts” to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials. Once Mifsud told Papadopoulos that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton, “Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton.”
The Mueller Report then details the many curious contacts with Russians (most of which were public) that occurred following Papadopoulos’ first meeting with Mifsud. During this period, Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met with a Russian who promised to deliver “dirt” on Clinton. Trump’s campaign also changed the GOP official platform to be more favorable towards Russia. Trump’s future Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, had several contacts with the Russian Ambassador during this time. While Mueller was unable to prove that any of this was done at the behest of Russia, many questions remain unanswered, and one thing is clear: the Trump Campaign was tipped-off early about Russia’s attack and was prepared to help.
What happened next — when Wikileaks began releasing emails stolen by Russia — is perhaps the most explosive (and most heavily redacted) section of the Mueller Report. Here, Mueller shows that the Trump Campaign was in consistent contact with Wikileaks, and that Trump himself was involved. The Report, for example, details Trump taking a phone call and afterwards saying that Wikileaks would be releasing more damaging information. The Report also notes that campaign-head Paul Manafort asked an unidentified individual to give him updates on Wikileaks releases, and that the Trump Campaign developed messaging and a press strategy surrounding upcoming leaks.
Mueller also narrows in on Manafort’s contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former colleague of Manafort and a Russian operative. Manafort shared secret, internal campaign data with Kilimnik, and even discussed campaign strategy in “battleground” states. Mueller “could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose” in sharing that data.
In one of the Report’s more startling paragraphs, Mueller confirms one of the central claims of the infamous Steele Dossier: that Trump-advisor Carter Page traveled to Russia during 2016 and discussed the sale of the Russian oil-giant Rosneft with Russian officials. According to Steele, the Russians offered a stake in the sale of Rosneft in return for Trump removing sanctions on Russia. In a highly-redacted section, Mueller stated, “Page’s activities in Russia…were not fully explained.”
To wrap all of this up, Mueller carefully details Trump’s efforts to employ a massive cover-up, firing his FBI Director, directing his White House counsel to shut-down Mueller’s probe (unsuccessfully), and dangling pardons for those who refused to cooperate.
What does this all amount to? Mueller’s Report confirms the broad story that has been coming together for years: The Trump Campaign knew of Russia’s attempts to interfere illegally in our election on Trump’s behalf; Trump’s closest officials encouraged that effort and even sought to aid it; once the “dirt” was filtered through Wikileaks, Trump’s campaign took an active role in encouraging the effort and sought to enhance its effect; along the way, the campaign shared secret information with those perpetrating the attack, and ultimately tried to cover it all up.
To be sure, this just scratches the surface of Mueller’s report. This overview doesn’t even touch on Trump’s attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow throughout the campaign, or the Trump Campaign’s attempts to find Clinton’s emails on their own. The corruption and complicity are endless.
And the full story is likely much worse. The redactions are surely hiding even more bombshell revelations. The ongoing fight at the Supreme Court over a Mueller subpoena served on a secret, foreign-owned corporation will likely shed more light on the Trump Campaign’s involvement in the sale of Rosneft. There are several key questions, such as why Manafort shared polling data with Russia, that Mueller was unable to answer. And most imporantly, Mueller’s work isn’t done: he transferred or referred 25 cases to other prosecutors’ offices.
Indeed, Mueller hinted that there is still much to learn. Because of lies and other efforts to hide evidence, Mueller “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.”
Was there an illegal conspiracy? Mueller says no. But there can simply be no doubt any longer that, at the very least, the Trump Campaign was complicit in an unprecedented attack on the core of our democracy, and orchestrated a scheme to hide it. That is all we need to know.
The Mueller Report has, for the past several years, obtained a mythical stature in our political discourse. As the story of Russia’s assault on our democracy has trickled into plain sight, and as Trump’s corruption and abuses of power have reached unprecedented levels, we have all sat-back, waiting on Mueller’s final word.
That approach is flawed for two reasons: First, Mueller’s role was not to flesh out a political scandal, but to prosecute narrow crimes. Second, even absent any whiff of Russia-collusion, Trump has compiled a laundry-list of impeachable offenses, and he should be removed from office regardless of Mueller’s conclusions.
Trump has threatened to prosecute political opponents, asked his Justice Department to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger to punish his rivals at CNN, revoked the press credentials of an unfriendly reporter, dangled pardons in an effort to avoid criminal liability, and violated campaign finance laws in order to hide damaging information from voters on the eve of the presidential election.
He has advocated violence against his political opponents, employed and praised white supremacists, aligned with brutal dictators, baselessly questioned the integrity of our elections, and promoted conspiracy theories in order to discredit law enforcement.
As if that wasn’t enough, Trump has employed this assault on liberal democracy surrounded by an army of collaborators in Congress and across the country. State legislatures have employed strict voter suppression laws and gerry-mandering to rig elections (one study suggests voter suppression laws on their own won Trump the presidency). The Electoral College and an undemocratic Senate have empowered a radical minority to seize control of the country indefinitely. Senate Republicans orchestrated a years-long plan to pack the federal judiciary, and conservative judges have abandoned precedent to dramatically transform the country with no accountability.
This is the state of our country. If the Mueller Report — which uncovers an epic political scandal the likes of which this country has never experienced — is not enough to spur a backlash, there is likely nothing that will.
As Brian Beutler writes in Crooked Media, the Democratic Party’s stance on impeachment is becoming increasingly untenable. That a majority of the country may not support it, or that the Senate may not follow-through, provide little justification for inaction. The difficulty of removing someone like Trump from office is evidence of his danger, not a reason to remain calm. “[T]he job of persuading the public that the president needs to be impeached,” writes Beutler, “falls to the leaders of the House of Representatives themselves.” If this is not one of those moments, what is?
If Trump is yet again let off the hook, the corruption will grow, the rules will continue to change to favor and entrench Republican rule, and accountability will fall further out of reach. Mueller has added an exclamation point to an unprecedented record of illiberalism, and the verdict could not be clearer: If Trump remains in power, we will cease to be ruled by law.
Follow me on Twitter @jesskcoleman.