For the second time this week, the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, blocked the resolution which called for the publication of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election. As of now, all we know about the content of the report is what’s in the short summary by the Attorney General William Barr, who said that the Special Counsel “…did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Mr. Barr also noted Mr. Mueller, after completing a “thorough factual investigation” into the possibility President Donald Trump‘s actions during the investigation amounted to obstruction of justice “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment,” pointing out the special counsel made special effort to note that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
This news galvanized the Kremlin’s enthusiasm and hopes for a “reset” of relations with the United States, as expressed by Russia’s foreign ministry on March 25th. “We hope that Washington will in the course of time pluck up its courage and officially confess that not only was there no ‘conspiracy’ but that all insinuations about Russia’s interference into the US presidential elections are a groundless vicious defamation created to be used in the internal political struggle in the US,” stated the ministry in a release issued to the press from Moscow
Russian television experts went even further and discussed on air all the concessions that Pres. Trump could now make to Russian President Vladimir Putin, without fear of being accused of working for the Kremlin. For example, one of the co-hosts of the Big Game on Channel One, the chairman of the board of the Russian World Foundation, Vyacheslav Nikonov, reacted to the news from the United States with cautious optimism, saying that “Trump won the battle, but he by no means won the war.”
“He did not drain the “Washington swamp”, it is still there and can suck Trump in, although the swamp’s chances are much lower,” warned Mr. Nikonov.
Another participant in the program, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Professor Andranik Migranian, was less optimistic in his expectations of Mr. Trump’s actions following the release of the Mueller report. According to Prof. Migranian, “constructive dialogue” between Washington and Moscow cannot be expected in the foreseeable future, since “spiteful” American lawmakers are doing everything possible to prevent Trump from fulfilling the wishes of the Russian leader.
“Though Trump promised to recognize Crimea as Russian, he cannot do this because Congress passed a special law on this matter. Although he was against the sanctions and could have canceled them, the Congress passed a special law,” complained Mr. Migranyan, referring to H.R. 463, the Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act, which passed the House on a 427-1 vote on March 12, 2019.
Expanded U.S. Presidential Powers, Hopes Russia
Nevertheless, Prof. Migranian called the results of the investigation “an event that should not be underestimated,” expressing the hope that Pres. Trump would be able to take advantage of the situation and in the next congressional election help elect “loyal” legislators who would be able to meet Moscow’s hopes for warmer relations with the United States.
“In the new presidential and congressional elections, Trump will be able to use the new situation to help elect legislators loyal personally to him, and it is possible that in the next Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, he will have sufficient support to expand the powers of the executive branch through Congress, since his hands are tied by the current Congress. He still has this opportunity, and now he no longer needs to be afraid to act, since Mueller exonerated him,” said Prof. Migranyan.
Inability to Establish Something Doesn’t Mean it Didn’t Happen
Meanwhile, US security experts are not inclined to view the available information as “exoneration” of the American president.
“The US Justice system sets a high bar for a prosecutor to prove guilt. We should respect that the investigators were not able to establish guilt and therefore treat the previously accused as innocent. However, the political expectations for a President of the United States should be higher than simply not being found guilty of treason. There remain a series of troubling actions by the President and those around him that need to be explained. Why did so many people around the President engage with Russians? Why have they never tried to explain the rationale? Why did they consistently lie about their activities? Why did they consistently attack those investigating them?” asked a former senior CIA officer with nearly 30 years of experience in intelligence, John Sipher, in an interview with our site.
“So, I still have a lot of questions about the President’s actions, and the actions of those around him – many of whom are now convicted criminals. Being feted by intelligence officers of a hostile state seeking to suborn you for espionage purposes is not a crime but it is nonetheless dangerous and unwise and hints at ill intent,” pointed out Mr. Sipher.
“On the Russian side, we know they were pursuing sources and interfering in our process. On the Trump side, we have seen a clear willingness to collude. We have also seen patterns that suggest collusion was possible. There are clear indications, areas of concern, troubling patterns, and questionable activity. We have a clear opportunity, intent and indications of wrongdoing but nothing that can stand up in a court of law. Without the smoking gun, it is impossible to establish collusion or criminality. That is as it should be. However, as we know, of course, inability to establish something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Rather than attack those who were concerned about their activity, the Trump Administration should now seek to answer the basic questions,” continued Mr. Sipher.
At the same time, the American expert admits that Donald Trump can really use the results of the investigation in future elections.
“He will benefit from this ruling. He will use it to attack his enemies. Those people in his base will continue to support and defend him. In some ways, however, it may help Democrats. They no longer can sit back and count on a savior. Instead, they need to find a candidate and policies that can beat Trump,” concluded the former intelligence officer.
Glenn Carle, who served in the CIA for 23 years as a deputy officer in charge of transnational threats, also stressed that the lack of evidence of a crime doesn’t mean the absence of a crime.
“The fundamental problem with the entire “Mueller probe” is that intelligence operations are always designed to be essentially impossible to prove in a court of law. This is one reason why spies are usually convicted – if they are convicted – of tertiary crimes: perjury, tax evasion, and so on. Espionage – treason – is exceptionally hard to prove. One can commit espionage in the open, visible to anyone who cares to look, and still not be convicted. Which means, literally, one can get away with treason in plain sight. I know: espionage – getting people to commit treason – is what I did with my colleagues for decades. So, Barr’s statement is some combination of naive, disingenuous, corrupt, incompetent, misleading, and wrong” assures the expert.
Mr. Carle believes that, despite Mr. Barr’s statements, the collusion took place, if not in the legal, then in the actual sense of the word.
“Literally hundreds of facts concerning Trump’s having been approached by Russian intelligence for decades, concerning Trump, his family, his entourage and, yes, his campaign, have been established – proven – each of which indicates Russian intelligence activities, and Trump collusion. I will be clear: for a CIA officer, all these instances of “collusion” are instances of treason. Perhaps not according to the legal definition of treason; but treason in the eyes of every intelligence and counter-intelligence service in the world,” he said.
According to him, the Russians are laughing, and have naive, easily manipulated, fools as their US rivals.
“American democracy and the international system that defends freedom and democracy is crumbling – in significant part because of the actions of someone in the Oval Office manipulated by and beholden to Russian intelligence, and who himself has literally no values beyond narcissism,” concluded the former CIA officer.
Moreover, not all American experts are ready to trust the conclusion of the attorney-general without seeing the full text of the Mueller report. Thus, according to a veteran of the FBI with 31-years experience, an organized crime specialist, Myron Fuller, Mr. Trump’s entourage continues to cover his many wrongdoings and mistakes.
“No attorney-general has ever acted as judge and jury to opine on a criminal matter. This is corruption at the highest level of our Democracy. I don’t doubt that the release of Mueller’s report will be redacted by Barr to hide evidence of Trump’s possible crimes and political embarrassments. The Democrats will fight for full disclosure and the matter could wind up in Supreme Court. Our best hope in the meantime is to have Mueller testify in public,” said Mr. Fuller.