U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s summary letter that was sent to Congress—saying that Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded President Donald Trump did not collude with Russia—is particularly puzzling since the conclusions were reached without any actual interview or sworn testimony by Trump.
Without Trump’s sworn testimony, neither Mueller nor the public will ever know what was going through his mind when he invited the Russians to hack into the database of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to find her missing emails or when he appeared to have advance knowledge of one or more of the WikiLeaks data dumps.
Nor will we ever know Trump’s explanation for his meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office on the day after firing FBI Director James Comey, where Trump celebrated with his Russian friends the elimination of what Trump referred to as a “nut job” who had the audacity to refuse to terminate the FBI’s investigation into possible Trump Campaign collusion with the Russians.
No Questions Under Oath
Donald Trump Jr. also got a free pass from Mueller when he was not required to answer questions under oath as to what he was thinking when he set up the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in the hope and expectation that they would turn over hacked emails and other Clinton dirt.
Given that the U.S. system of laws is premised on the concept that “no man is above the law,” how could Mueller and Barr reach a conclusion that neither Trump nor his inner circle conspired with the Russians when neither Trump nor any other key players (Don Jr.) were even asked to explain what they were doing when they met with Russians, talked about getting access to Clinton dirt, and discussed the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia?
Mueller’s conclusion of no collusion also appears to be based on a very narrow—and ultimately worthless—definition of what constituted Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Two Positions in Letter
As summarized in Barr’s March 24th letter to Congress, the special counsel’s investigation focused on two major aspects of Russian interference.
The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA) to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the U.S., with the aim of interfering in the election. The second involved Russian government efforts “to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the elections.”
Just as with polling data, where answers to a question are likely to vary widely depending on how the poll question is phrased, the narrow definition of Russian interference as posed in Barr’s March 24th letter (and presumably the Mueller Report) almost dictates a negative answer to the question of whether the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia.
With regard to the first prong identified in the Barr letter, no one (to my knowledge) has even suggested that anyone in the Trump campaign directly conspired with the Russian IRA.
Nor are there any allegations that anyone connected with the Trump campaign directly conspired with Russia’s hacking operations that, as summarized in the Barr letter, gathered emails from “the Clinton campaign and other Democratic Organizations.”
So, if the question is framed as: “Did the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspire with the IRA’s disinformation and social media campaign in the U.S. or with the Russian government’s hacking operations?” the inevitable answer is a resounding “No.”
The question that naturally arises from the Barr letter’s conclusion of no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians is why did so many Trump campaign officials lie about their contacts with Russian officials during the campaign and transition period?
They were not plotting the specifics of hacking into Clinton campaign and DNC databases to get dirt on Clinton or assisting Russia with its disinformation and social media campaign in the U.S.
Rather, the meetings were more broadly focused on how the Trump campaign, transition team, and administration, would adopt a pro-Russian policy agenda, such as reducing or eliminating the crippling U.S. financial and economic sanctions on Russia and accepting Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea, in return for Russia’s independent efforts to damage the Clinton campaign and get Trump elected.
This expansive conspiracy against the United States, which is a violation of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 371, is precisely the statute that Mueller used in numerous indictments for tax fraud, violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and other fraudulent acts against U.S. agencies.
This broader conspiracy between Russian and Trump campaign operatives to sell out U.S. interests in favor of Russia’s interests, and to give aid and comfort to a foreign hostile power at the expense of one’s own country, is the textbook definition of treason, and most certainly amounts to betrayal of the public trust.
Now that Mueller has closed shop, we will have to rely on the ongoing congressional investigations or the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York to get to the bottom of what appears to be the largest political scandal in American history.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Kenneth F. McCallion is a New York-based attorney with more than 40 years of experience in a wide range of legal practice areas. A former special assistant attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney with the Department of Justice, he is a regular contributor to USA Today, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Beast, and has served as an expert commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and other news programs. He is also the author of Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual - 1.