This column has, to date, not analyzed the manifest problems with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump for two reasons. First, because it fell outside my national security/foreign policy strike zone. Second, because many others — especially my friend Andy McCarthy of National Review Online and Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal — have done an excellent job of performing that task, I could not see how I could add value to what has been done.
Now, because of the passage of time and the occurrence of events, the first reason for my forbearance is no longer true, which leads me to believe that the second is undermined too greatly. For the same reasons, it is necessary to conclude that Mueller’s investigation has to be brought to an end. The Mueller investigation has gone on so long and is absorbing so much of the president’s time and attention that it is creating a deleterious effect on national security.
One-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been indicted in two different federal courts on separate charges. Manafort, supposedly a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation, suffered a pre-dawn raid and search of his home on Mueller’s orders, a harsh tactic normally reserved for serial killers, drug traffickers and mafia dons who might destroy evidence.
Manafort’s lawyers have insisted that the charges against him in one case — bank fraud and such — should be dropped because they are outside the authority granted Mueller by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein when he appointed Mueller special counsel to investigate the supposed collusion between candidate Donald Trump and the Russian government.
In a Friday hearing in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, in which Manafort’s lawyers were seeking dismissal of the charges against their client in that court, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III berated Justice Department lawyers severely, saying something that many Americans have been thinking for a long time.
Judge Ellis said that the Justice Department lawyers’ earlier characterization of the case was false and amounted to, “We said what this investigation was about but we are not bound by it and we were lying.” Ellis added, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever.”
On Saturday, another U.S. district court judge, Dabney Friedrich of the D.C. district court, refused Mueller’s motion to delay the arraignment hearing on Concord Management and Consulting, one of the three firms — and a bunch of Russian citizens — Mueller indicted in February. The hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday.
We shouldn’t read too much into either judge’s action. Judge Ellis, as I can vouch for from personal experience, loves to bully lawyers. His comments Thursday may have been no more than that. Judge Friedrich may be losing patience with Mueller’s team, but that will have little bearing on the disposition of the cases against the Russians indicted by Mueller in February.
Neither of the judges is at all likely to rein in the Mueller investigation, far less bring it to an end. Nor is it more likely that Deputy AG Rosenstein or AG Jeff Sessions will call a halt to Mueller’s work. The president won’t fire Mueller, for to do so would be political suicide.
Mueller’s investigation will be a year old on May 17. Before that, the FBI was pursuing a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign that dates back at least another three to six months. (Remember that the first FISA warrant against Trump adviser Carter Page was obtained in October 2016, indicating that the investigation preceded that by weeks or months.) The FBI’s investigation was based on its reliance on the unvetted and unproven allegations contained in the “Steele dossier,” a series of memos citing Russian sources that was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and given to the FBI by Christopher Steele, who was an FBI source later fired for misleading the FBI.
In Mueller’s time, he has managed to indict and convict former national security adviser Gen. Mike Flynn of lying to federal agents despite the fact that, as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence revealed a few days ago, former FBI director James Comey testified to the HPSCI that the FBI agents who interrogated Flynn saw no evidence that Flynn was lying. Flynn reportedly confessed to lying after Mueller’s team threatened to pursue Flynn’s son on other grounds.
Rick Gates, a minor Trump campaign official, also plead guilty to lying to investigators as did George Papadopoulos, an even more minor campaign official.
Three convictions, all on process crimes and none on any conspiracy or participation in a Russian scheme of any kind.
Mueller knew that the indictments of three Russian companies and thirteen Russian citizens were mainly a publicity stunt to show he hadn’t altogether forgotten why he was hired. The Russian government has refused to serve the indictments on its companies and citizens, which is no surprise to anyone including Mueller. Concord Management, the only one of the Russian defendants that had representatives in the U.S. to be served, is the case before Judge Friedrich.
None of the other cases Mueller has brought even remotely relates to Russian interference in the 2016 election. In his year as special counsel, Mueller has neither produced any evidence nor made any charge that Trump or his campaign conspired with or participated in Russian interference in the election.
When then independent counsel Ken Starr was investigating Bill Clinton’s various scandals from Whitewater to Filegate and Travelgate, Starr was routinely compared to Inspector Javert, the relentless villain in Les Misérables, who pursued Jean Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread. Mueller is no Javert, who pursued his man for an identified — though minor — crime. He is more comparable to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria.
Beria is remembered for inventing charges against Stalin’s enemies. Beria once said, “Show me the man and I’ll find the crime.” Mueller has identified Trump as his target and is working like a Stakhanovite to find Trump’s crime.
Mueller’s threat to national security is accomplished, as Judge Ellis alluded to, by lying to the courts, misleading the public, and interfering with the execution of the president’s duties. He is doing far more to damage our national security than the Russians did in their unsuccessful effort to interfere in 2016.
A few examples suffice.
The president is preoccupied with what he characterizes as Mueller’s “witch hunt,” a topic that dominates Trump’s Tweets. He has to deal with juggling his defense team. Former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova was brought on and then departed almost immediately. Ty Cobb, the lawyer trusted with his defense against Mueller’s investigation, was apparently fired because he was cooperating with Mueller to no avail and replaced with Emmett Flood, who reportedly will take a much tougher approach. (Flood, a former Clinton impeachment defense counsel, is known in “Godfather” terms as a “wartime consigliere.”)
Now, Trump and the defense team are trying to deal with Mueller’s threat to subpoena Trump to testify before a grand jury if Trump doesn’t consent to a less formal — but no less dangerous — interrogation.
The president is trying to come up with a policy to deal with Russian and Iranian aggression in Syria and with Turkey’s partnership with both to preserve the Assad regime. He apparently isn’t even thinking about the almost seventeen-year war we’re fighting in Afghanistan or the fact that — as our top general in Europe warned Congress in March — that Russia could outmatch and outgun U.S. and NATO forces if war broke out in Europe.
All of that is taking place at the same time Trump is working with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and their respective teams to arrange the coming summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the release of the American hostages held in North Korea.
Mueller’s investigation is also absorbing Trump’s time he could otherwise spend in renegotiating trade agreements such as NAFTA, dealing personally with allies who are trying to get him to cancel Obama’s nuclear weapons agreement with Iran (Israel’s Netanyahu) or to not cancel it (France’s Macron, Germany’s Merkel, and Britain’s May), and other not-so-minor matters such as talking to China’s Xi Jinping about avoiding a mutual trade war and China’s interference with U.S. flights in Africa near China’s first overseas military base there.
The Mueller problem began as a legal problem with Rosenstein’s too-broad grant of powers to the special counsel. By his Beria-like methods, Mueller has made it into a political problem that no one, especially Rosenstein, seems willing to solve. As Judge Ellis said on Friday, “We don’t want anyone with unfettered power.” But that’s just what we have in Robert Mueller.
Rosenstein needs to mandate that Mueller’s investigation be ended before the November election. If Rosenstein won’t do that, Trump should fire him and hire someone who will.