Mueller’s Game

I have tried to avoid the temptation to comment on the alleged scandals involving supposed collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians and the possibility that the president obstructed justice by firing James Comey. Heretofore, the sole exception to my general reticence on this topic was when I wrote that former president Obama, who has little love for his successor and who doubtless knows more on these scores than most, has been notably absent from the wolfpack pursuing Trump.

I have figured that because I have no independent knowledge of the facts, and less of the relevant law than many, I didn’t have much light to shed. My general ignorance on these points remains, but after watching the process unfold over the last year, I have some observations that you might find interesting.

The first is that I do not expect that persuasive evidence will emerge that there was any explicit or implied quid pro quo between candidate Trump or his inner team and the Russians, for the simple reason that I have concluded that no such deal happened.

We know that there were contacts between Trump people and Russians, of course, and, further, that Don, Jr., showed poor judgement with the Russians in his eagerness to get dirt on Hillary that he believed they had. But bad judgement is not criminal, especially where, as here, it seems clear from various people’s notes and recollections of the relevant meeting, nothing happened. And even if Trump’s son had committed a crime, that’s not the same thing as if the candidate had done so, or had ratified such a crime.

To me, the bigger picture is that while there have been many leaks from Robert Mueller’s team, after a year’s work, none has even hinted at evidence incriminating the president. Mueller’s indictments have related to crimes that either took place long before the campaign began (Manafort) or were “process” crimes – lying to the FBI – unrelated to any campaign conspiracy (Flynn and Popadopoulos).

I don’t doubt for a second that the Russians looked to make trouble for us in this election – as I would guess they have done many times. That said, they didn’t “hack” our election. They didn’t change votes by messing with our voting machines, and the few nickels they spent on social media advertising – much of which, I understand, had nothing to do with Trump – certainly didn’t change the result. (And BTW, if they could change our election result by spending a few hundred thousand dollars on advertising, while Hillary was spending a billion, they’re a lot smarter than everybody else).

No, at worst they tried to entrap Trump, a candidate who, like everybody else, they doubtless thought would lose. That would’ve been horrifying if it had happened, but there’s no evidence that it did – and highly persuasive (to me) evidence that it didn’t.

Since his election, Trump has taken actions that run decisively against Russian interests: he has done all in his power to encourage US fracking (which lowers prices for the only real, exportable Russian product other than weapons – petroleum) and, reversing Obama policy, he has agreed to supply Ukraine with anti-tank weapons that can be expected to … kill Putin’s little green men. Finally, he has not moved to rescind the Magnitsky Act. Does this sound like how he would behave if they had the goods on him – as they certainly would have if they could show the world that he had conspired with them? Absolutely not. On the contrary, his behavior has been far more consistently anti-Russian than that of “Re-set” Hillary or “I’ll have more flexibility after the election” Obama.

My impression is that, like many of his business ventures, President Trump’s campaign was pretty shambolic. This is, after all, a man who had run several large businesses into the ground, leaving creditors in the lurch. And a guy who had bragged about mistreating women.

The American people knew all of that when they elected him. Given the virtually uniformly harsh press coverage his campaign had generated, it’s pretty clear that very few voters thought that in choosing him over Hillary, they were getting a saint, a man of culture or one with an unblemished business record.

So am I surprised that Trump had some buffoonish, and some less than high-minded, people in the campaign? Not at all. I don’t think many of the sentient could be. Do I think Hillary did too? Of course. Barack? Yup. Mitt? Well, I’m pretty sure that if Mitt had any sleazy operatives/advisors, he didn’t know that about them, but that’s just my assessment of his character.

I don’t think most Americans are naive about the kind of people who get involved in campaigns – I do think they focus on both the comparative characters of the prospective leaders, and the issues, and choose accordingly. In this instance, by the rules of the contest, they chose Trump.

If it’s pretty clear that the whole “collusion” allegation is a pile of stinking nothing, then, what’s the continuing point of the Mueller investigation? Over time, given the absence of evidence pointing to a conspiracy with the Russians, Trump-haters have shifted to claiming that it’s really all about obstruction of justice. The theory is that Comey was getting too close to Trump or his friends, so Trump fired him.

The first problem I have with this theory is that Alan Dershowitz’s point that the president can fire executive branch leaders for any reason or no reason, i.e., that the FBI is not independent of our three branches of government, is quite persuasive. The implication is that a president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for exercising his right as president to fire somebody who, for whatever reason, he or she doesn’t trust (as was manifestly the case with Comey).

Dershowitz’s argument is either right or wrong – that would ultimately be up to the Senate (as the trier of an impeachment) – but even if such (alleged) misbehavior could constitute a crime, that would not be dispositive. Clinton committed crimes – admittedly perjury, probably others – but was let off through the impeachment process as a political matter. The Senate just didn’t want to kick him out for that.

Which brings me to the second problem I have with the idea that Trump’s presidency is endangered by Mueller: would/should the Senate kick Trump out if it determined that (Dershowitz is wrong and) he had committed a crime by firing Comey? No!

Think about it: if my premise that there was no conspiracy between Trump and the Russians is correct, he knew that!

What Trump would have seen, just after the election, was that the Democrats, stung by their unexpected loss, were making a huge fuss about something that he knew had never happened. Then this fellow Comey – with whom he quickly developed a fully mutual distrust – was acting as if there was something to it, and seemingly leaking all kinds of baloney to the press.

So Trump did what he had done on TV – and in business – for years, and fired they guy, only to find that through careful and possibly illegal leaking of confidential information, Comey managed to get his friend and predecessor Mueller appointed to a special prosecutor role, devoted to making trouble for his new administration. Can you blame him for being pissed?

But back to the possible obstruction: the president couldn’t have seen himself as obstructing justice in trying to squelch an investigation into a conspiracy that he knew hadn’t taken place.

And if your answer is that he could have been attempting to obstruct justice by protecting Flynn – whom he described to Comey as a good guy, on whom he hoped Comey would go easy – I just don’t buy that comment as a good reason for Mueller to try to hamstring the new administration. Flynn, remember, copped to lying to the FBI about something that would not have been criminal if admitted – a process crime about nothing.

Do we seriously imagine that other administrations haven’t similarly treated people they knew in context? Does anybody believe that the FBI’s investigation of Hillary’s treatment of confidential information didn’t take the bigger picture into consideration? If she had been a normal federal employee, she would be in jail.

Unless Mueller has direct, convincing evidence of a conspiracy during the campaign between Trump and the Russians – which for the reasons listed above would completely shock me – President Trump is not going to lose his job, and the voters’ choice be overturned based on the flimsy obstruction construct.

Given all that (to say nothing of Mueller’s rabidly Democrat-partisan staff), it’s hard not to see his investigation as a partisan hit job, designed to wound a new president disliked by our very own nomenklatura. And, come to think of it, by the Russians too.

M.H. Johnston


3 comments to Mueller’s Game

  • Doug  says:

    Nice job. I am back at ‘Get Smart’. Isn’t disruption the Russian’s job anyway? C.H.A.O.S. more importantly, what the heck would they do? and how?

  • Vivian Wadlin  says:

    Trump’s election was a vote against Hillary. She was a terrible candidate, with no record of accomplishments, and little to recommend her besides having been married to Billy boy… apparently not such a hot recommendation after all.

    In NY there was no doubt that Hillary was a foregone conclusion. If there had been a doubt I would have voted for Trump. I was spared that troubling prospect and voted for Johnson.

    I believe the popular vote might have been different as there were additional states like NY where a Trump vote would be outnumbered, so people stayed home or voted for a 3rd party because both major party candidates were terrible. Choosing between two evils is getting pretty tiring. I hope once in my life I get to vote for someone I believe would uphold the Constitution.

    Excellent article M. H. Johnston. Thank you.

    • M Johnston  says:

      I strongly agree that Trump was an accidental president – but in spite of his warts, and in some cases because of them – it’s starting to look to me like he may be a really good one.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>