Trump’s media cartel
and others in Republican ranks are already speculating that the Special Counsel’s report turned in to the Justice Department on Friday, will not contain specific details about Donald Trump’s participation in a conspiracy with Russian operatives to impact the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The notion among those in these circles is that because there may be no ‘smoking gun’ in Robert Mueller’s report specifically demonstrating Trump himself coordinating with the Russians, that they can spin Mueller’s summary into an exoneration of Trump for any and all misconduct that he has been accused of and may still be subject to investigation for.
Trump and his surrogates including Fox News hosts, Rudy Giuliani and various other apologists for the president, have been laying the groundwork for just such a coordinated media response. Trump himself, has repeatedly tweeted (183 times and counting), and publicly stated that the Mueller investigation is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” and that there was “no collusion”.
GOP Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA), said on the House floor last week that he had a “news flash” for Democrats expecting the report to contain damaging material regarding Trump. “What happens when it comes back and says none of this was true, the president did not do anything wrong?” Collins asked. “Then the meltdown will occur.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich checked in, saying that if there was no conclusive evidence of Trump’s personal participation in conspiracy,
“there would no longer be any justification for what the House Dems want to do. They have their report, they had the guy they wanted writing it, and he had the full power of the federal government behind him and they still didn’t get the president. Trump can say: ‘Here is the report. I didn’t fire Mueller, I didn’t interfere with him. If you want to keep investigating me, it just shows that it is purely partisan’.”
The Associated Press quotes White House sources as indicating to them that, Trump has told his inner circle that, if the report is underwhelming, he will use Twitter and interviews to gloat over the findings, complain about the probe’s cost and depict the entire investigation as an attempt to obstruct his agenda. Prominent House Freedom Caucus member Mark Meadows (R-NC), tweeted last month that Democrats will “keep investigating if Mueller doesn’t find what they want. Amazing.”
As an example of what we can expect from the likes of Fox News’, Tucker Carlson, who has been shedding advertisers faster than a dog in a flea dip, is Carlson’s coverage of various bases in his opening monologue that have already been in circulation for several months in the Trump barnacle media. Without going into the weeds, a couple of his talking points are notable and have already been fact checked and found false or misleading.
One is that the Clinton campaign took the “Steele Dossier” directly to the media, not the FBI. The fact is that Christopher Steele shared the information he had collected in the dossier with the FBI directly, all the way back in July of 2016. That is precisely one of the reasons Trump has been grinding his gears about the late Arizona Senator John McCain. When McCain saw it, he was concerned – saying in his book, “Restless Wave” that,
“The allegations were disturbing, but I had no idea which if any were true. I could not independently verify any of it, and so I did what any American who cares about our nation’s security should have done. I put the dossier in my office safe, called the office of the director of the FBI, Jim Comey, and asked for a meeting.”
Carlson also repeated the often touted claim that the FBI investigation and the subsequent Mueller investigation was a direct result of the Steele Dossier. It was not. It was the result of the FBI receiving reports from high level contacts with various international intelligence agencies including from the Netherlands and Great Britain’s GCHQ about suspicious contacts between Russia and Trump campaign operatives.
What specifically are these media surrogates and GOP strategists seeking to achieve? It’s simple. They are playing the odds that Mueller will not find that any single instance of Trump’s behavior that would rise to the level that a recommendation of a charge against the president meets the threshold of an indictment. That said, Mueller cannot possibly have neglected pondering the significance, for example, of candidate Trump’s comments during a news conference in Florida on July 27, 2016, when candidate Trump animatedly stated:
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”.
In actuality, even if the Mueller investigation decides to construe this as potentially only a off-handed comment – an implicit request rather than an explicit one, Trump’s real liability from the Special Counsel investigation into what Trump persists in describing as “collusion”, has never been as much legal as political.
The real threat to Trump’s presidency and to him personally are matters that are still under scrutiny from Mueller, state and federal prosecutors and the House of Representatives. This is due to the fact that the original scope of the investigation Mueller was tasked with was relatively narrow; “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” The “any matters” aspect has proven quite expansive and target rich.
Because of this, Trump’s partisans have decided to roll the dice on the strategy of dismissing Mueller’s report as a giant nothingburger in the hopes that doing so will claw back some of the disaffected Republicans, independents and Rust Belt Democrats that polls show have soured on the president. Problem is that this “nothingburger” has, in 22 months, resulted in 37 indictments. That’s one calorie rich nothingburger.
Despite all of this no-risk pre-conditioning of whatever conclusions (or lack thereof) might arise from Mueller’s report regarding Trump and the Russians, the reality is that Trump is by no means free and clear.
Even if Robert Mueller were to conclude that there is no concrete evidence indicating that Trump conspired directly with agents of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Trump is still under investigation for a laundry list of other potential crimes (obstruction of justice, violating campaign finance laws with the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election, money laundering) – both by Congress, but also by the U.S. Attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York, (SDNY) and in other ongoing investigations that Mueller continues to preside over. The clinical term is Premature Exoneration.
As Elie Honig former federal and state prosecutor, CNN legal analyst and Rutgers University scholar points out in his CNN article today,
Mueller’s work will not suddenly end once he issues the report. Mueller’s investigation still has important unfinished business. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn awaits sentencing, and former Trump campaign official Rick Gates continues to cooperate and has not yet been sentenced. Stone, the longtime Trump adviser, faces trial in November. Beyond these known, pending matters, Mueller’s investigation surely has opened new avenues that will require investigative follow-up. The special counsel already has referred several offshoots of his core investigation to US attorney’s offices — most notably, Mueller sent the Cohen investigation to the Southern District of New York. If anything, look for the scope and intensity of investigations of the President, his administration and his business to intensify — in Congress and particularly in the Southern District of New York.
Meanwhile, what comes next is the White House political calculus about the risk / reward ratios related to how much of the Mueller report is released to Congress through newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr.
Trump has made superficial statements to reporters, such as, “I don’t mind. Let it come out, let people see it, that’s up to the attorney general.” As we know, any preliminary statement from Trump is provisional. If Barr previews anything that Trump and his advisors consider too damaging to release, that brief glasnost campaign may make a full U-turn. But if Trump persuades Barr to withhold the report or cherry pick what is released to Congress, he faces a severe political risk. As Trump himself is fond of saying, “We’ll see what happens”.
We shall indeed.