Finally, the office of the special counsel filed its report on Donald Trump’s ties — or not — to the Russian Federation.
More hurry up and wait. We know the report contains no new indictments, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of bombshells. Indeed, Atty. Gen. William Barr, who received the report Friday, initially said he might summarize its “principal conclusions” this weekend. Now he seems to want time to catch his breath. Whatever he saw in the report, he wasn’t ready to tell on Saturday. Even Trump took a break from tweeting.
Expect — as we cram into this latest waiting room — more rumors, leaks, spins, guesses and conspiracy theories. Rightwing figures such as Tucker Carlson are already flashing victory signs, while Democrats in Congress such as House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) are agitating to see the whole report, and more, from the special counsel — and he says he’ll subpoena it if he has to.
Last week, Mimi Rocah, legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, suggested on Twitter that the report should be considered a beginning and not an end to the republic’s reckoning: “Waiting for the Mueller Report is like waiting for the baby to be born. We’re in the end of the third trimester and just want it to be over. But, as every parent knows, once the baby comes - that’s when all the real work begins.”
Precisely. With just one adjustment: The gestation period of the special counsel’s findings has been nowhere near as predictable as the human kind. It took more than seven trimesters to finish the work.
On May 17, 2017, acting Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert S. Mueller III, then best known as the former director of the FBI, to investigate a stupefying range of matters that concerned Trump: “Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”; “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”; and “any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”
That last code translates, roughly, to “everything.”
No wonder Mueller and his team have been holed up and head-down for 22 months, rendering 37 indictments, with seven guilty pleas and five prison sentences.
We can be sure the team has looked deeply into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. As in 2001 in Manhattan and Washington, it was clear in 2016 that the U.S. had been attacked. The first goal of the Mueller probe was fact-finding, as with the 9/11 Commission. Who attacked our country, why and how? A consensus exists in the Justice Department that crimes were committed and the American people deserve justice.
A detailed Feb. 16, 2018, indictment, signed by Mueller alone, began to lay it out: a Kremlin-linked troll farm called the Internet Research Agency hacked American social media with a pervasive disinformation campaign in a “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
The next indictment signed by Mueller alone appeared on July 13, 2018. It exposed an extensive Russian military operation against the United States, charging officers of the GRU — Russian military intelligence — with a jaw-dropping series of cyberattacks on the digital infrastructure of the Democratic Party.
These two indictments alone could constitute a Mueller report: The Internet Research Agency and the GRU attacked the U.S. to elect Trump.
But did the Kremlin do it just out of the goodness of its Trump-loving heart, expecting nothing in return? Or might Trumpworld have coordinated with Russia, so they could mutually prosper at the expense of American democracy?
Consider just one document: Michael Flynn’s plea deal. Filed on Dec. 1, 2017, that plea was made public with the very first batch of Mueller’s indictments.
In case Flynn has slipped your mind: He was Trump’s surrogate and national security advisor during the campaign, the transition and the early days of his presidency.
The special counsel’s filing says that both Flynn and the U.S. agree that the facts in it are true. On the same day — “on or around Dec. 28, 2016” — President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for hacking the campaign, the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, contacted Flynn. The next day, Flynn called a senior member of Trump’s transition team to find out what to say to Kislyak about “the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy.”
The answer: Russia should sit tight, refrain from retaliation. And presto, Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly thereafter announced Russia’s forbearance.
Finally, according to Mueller’s plea deal filing, Flynn lied about it, “falsely” telling the FBI “that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions.”
The double negative is a beaut: Flynn is pleading guilty to lying about the transition team not having Russia ties.
Since Flynn flipped, presumably no longer lying to investigators about Trumpworld’s Russia connections, we’ve seen indictment after indictment of Trump’s circle: advisors George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone, campaign manager Paul Manafort , deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, and personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Most have been caught or accused of lying; some have been fingered for obstructing justice and/or defrauding banks and taxpayers.
With all this, what do concerned citizens need with the report? A team of legal eagles to cut our meat for us, evidently.
And that’s forgivable: The heart craves the whole truth, or should, whatever its partisan implications. As Garrett Graff wrote recently in Wired, all patriots would do best to hope the Mueller report finds Trump blameless in any “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
That’s because it’s unthinkable that an American president would sell out his country to the Kremlin. But, depending on Mueller’s conclusions, it might have to become thinkable. Remember Rocah’s words: “That’s when all the real work begins.”