There’s been a lot of chatter in the public forum since Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced his indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for violations of U.S. law in connection with his investigation of Russia’s interference in our sovereignty and the possible coordination of Americans in that effort.
Not surprisingly, there has been a mad scramble to determine what the indictments mean, including judgments on whether they are a good thing or bad for the president of the United States.
I suppose it is a sign of our times that mentioning the legal standing of a president of the United States in the same breath as a wide-ranging and, yes, legitimate, investigation of a Russian intelligence operation on U.S. soil is a normal as the sun rising in the morning, but it’s still breathtaking to me.
And I spent a lot of years doing these kinds of investigations. They just never involved the highest office in the land — or stakes that were so significant.
This should not be read as an indictment of President Donald Trump — not yet — but what Friday’s indictment means is that, contrary to what the president and his spokesman would have us believe, the investigation isn’t over. Far from it, I’d wager.
And while the president may be absolutely right in his all caps insistence there has been no collusion between his campaign/administration and the Russians, that’s a moot point. The special counsel’s investigation — and the FBI’s effort before it, for that matter — has never been about collusion.
It has been about the possible coordination of U.S. Persons, particularly from the Trump campaign, to enable or facilitate the Russia effort. If, in fact, that occurred, what we, all of us, should be worried about isn’t the misjudgment of a bunch of incompetent amateurs, but a criminal conspiracy to undermine the Republic. Despite my distaste for the current administration, I hope and pray that is not the case. But the career law enforcer and intelligence officer in me worries otherwise.
It boils down to something else I took away from the indictment. Even a casual observer of events over the past year knows there is likely more than one aspect of the special counsel’s investigation: possible conspiracy is one avenue. Financial crimes are another possibility. Even “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the form of obstruction of justice and abuse of power are likely on the special counsel’s investigative “to-do” list.
But to pursue most, if not all, of these issues as violations of our laws, you typically need a predicate offense, or offenses, on which to base them. Charging the Russians with the crimes set forth in last Friday’s indictment is a meaningful way to do that.
Throw in media reports in recent days that former Trump Campaign CEO and Senior Counselor to the President, Steve Bannon, spent upwards of 20 hours with the special counsel, and Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, is nearing a plea deal, and it is awfully hard for me to believe there isn’t more coming from the special counsel in the way of legal action.
Think about it. Why would it take Bannon that long to plead the Fifth, or say nothing happened? Why would the special counsel want to make a deal with Gates if it’s not for something substantial in return?
Another point to ponder:
I worked closely with the Bob Mueller when he was director of the FBI. As other of my former colleagues have testified in public forum, he is a man of the highest integrity. He’s focused. He approaches every problem like the formidable prosecutor he is; methodically, based in fact, and until it is solved.
Consider what is publicly known about his effort to date. The Papadopoulos and Flynn convictions. The Manafort and Gates indictments. The Russian indictments. The president and his defenders would have us think these are stand-alone activities that have or had no bearing on him or his campaign prior to the election. Perhaps. But it would also be a mistake not to look at them as the first layers of prosecutive activity reaching towards a greater outcome.
Some commentators have assessed this as reaching for the “lower hanging fruit.” That’s an interesting way to look at it, but the reality is this is what you do as you work your way up an organizational chart to lop off the head of the snake in a criminal enterprise.
And just who is that snake?
So far, it is a serpent of mostly Russian origin and, for the sake of the Republic, I sincerely hope it remains that way. But if not, at least we can take comfort that a public servant like Bob Mueller—who, throughout his distinguished career of public service, has always put principle above politics and the rule of law over any individual—is leading the charge against a very real threat to our nation.
That threat has not only bitterly divided us internally, but has left our closest allies wondering what has happened to a nation they once admired and respected.