Politics & Policy

The Late, Not-So-Great Mueller Investigation

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters)
It followed the Soviet style: ‘Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.’

Had Hillary Clinton just won the 2016 election, there would have been neither a Mueller investigation nor much talk of Russian collusion.

 

No Trump Victory, No Collusion Investigation

A losing Donald Trump would have slunk off to left-wing and Never-Trump ridicule and condemnation — and no investigation about collusion.

A defeated Trump would have posed no threat to the 16-year Obama-Clinton progressive project. President Clinton would have been content to let her unverified but lurid dossier rumors hound Trump for the rest of his life, with Trump as the supposed “loser” who had tried, in cahoots with the Russians, to unfairly beat Hillary, though he pathetically failed even at that.

Of course, a President Hillary Clinton herself may well have faced some Russian blackmail attempts. Kremlin fixers would have likely threatened to go public that their planted lies to Christopher Steele were gobbled up by President Clinton’s own private Fusion GPS hit team. In essence, the Russians would have claimed that they had fueled the dossier that wounded the Trump campaign — and expected some sort of quid pro quo, perhaps in Uranium One fashion.

Obama-administration bureaucrats — Attorney General Loretta Lynch, subordinate attorneys general such as Bruce Ohr and Rod Rosenstein, FBI grandees such as James Baker, James Comey, and Andrew McCabe, intelligence kingpins such as John Brennan and James Clapper, and national-security officials turned intelligence sleuths such as Susan Rice and Samantha Power — would all have been competing on the basis of service beyond the call of duty for top jobs in the Clinton administration.

Among their swamp talking points would have been rival obsequious claims to have squashed Trump. Clinton-administration transition officials would have had to parcel out patronage by judging the relative help of people who had seeded Hillary’s Steele dossier around the government and the media, or fooled a FISA court to monitor Carter Page and thereby generated leaks that the Trump campaign was “under investigation,” or obstructed the Clinton email investigation, or placed an informant in Trump’s campaign, or unmasked the contents of surveilled conversations and leaked them to the press.

Translated, that means the hysteria that helped prompt the Mueller investigation was in part whipped up by those who had knowingly acted unethically or illegally during and also after the 2016 campaign. These Obama officials bet on the sure-thing but wrong horse and suddenly, after Nov. 8, 2016, feared that they were soon to be subject to lots of criminal exposure.

Assume that both the ruse of “collusion” and James Comey’s leaking gambit to prompt a special counsel’s investigation were thus the preemptive defenses of an assortment of crimes by Obama-era officials, such as lying to federal officials, conspiracy to obstruct justice, illegally leaking confidential or classified documents to the media, deceiving a FISA court, and myriad conflicts of interest. In other words, there were never any evidentiary reasons to appoint a special counsel other than to divert attention away from an array of wrongdoing. After 22 months, that fact finally became clear even to a largely partisan group of attorneys, once eager to become folk heroes by aborting the Trump presidency.

Let us hope both that Attorney General Barr can now turn to the real illegal behavior of an entire array of Obama-administration officials, and that the public at last can have access to unredacted documents that record their frenzied and illegal efforts.

 

No Phony Dossier, No Investigation

The Clinton-purchased Steele Dossier was the encephalitic virus that infected the entire Washington establishment between 2016 and 2019.

Without it, there would have been no such thing as “collusion,” much less a Mueller investigation.

Had James Comey and his associates (and Bruce Ohr had briefed them all previously on the shaky dossier) been honest and apprised the FISA court in October 2016 that their “opposition research” evidence for a warrant was 1) paid for by Hillary Clinton, 2) largely written by a foreign national (with help from the spouse of Obama DOJ official Bruce Ohr) who despised Donald Trump and who was dismissed from his nebulous relationship with the FBI, 3) remained unverified, and 4) served as the basis for submitted news accounts that in circular fashion supposedly substantiated collusionary behavior, then the writ might have been rejected and the dossier’s usefulness died.

Immediately after the election, the dossier was reinvigorated (by nervous-lame-duck careerists like John Brennan and James Clapper, and Senator John McCain) to serve a new role in aborting the Trump presidency, given that it had always been the only real basis for the entire mythology of Trump-Russian collusion.

Paul Manafort was no doubt duplicitous and acted in a variety of felonious ways, but, without the seeded dossier, his illegal behavior would no more have sparked a wider investigation of the Trump campaign than the actions of the Podesta brothers (whose suspect Russian ties had long contaminated the Clinton campaign) would have spurred investigations of liberal Russian collusion and profiteering.

The Machiavellian brilliance of Trump-hater and otherwise washed-up hack Christopher Steele was his knowledge that lying outrageously (just ask Jussie Smollett) is a far more effective weapon than lying incrementally.

So, Steele’s insertion of the Trump-prostitute-Obama’s-hotel-bed-urolagnia meme was the sharp hook that snagged Washington’s swamp creatures. The Steele dossier was not just spurious in its wild claims about Carter Page eyeing billion-dollar payoffs or a bumbling Michael Cohen in Prague on a secret Trump collusionary mission, it was also so salacious that it served as lurid pornography that supercharged its odyssey throughout the bowels of the Obama government and the media.

 

The ‘All-Stars’ and ‘Dream Team’ Were Flawed from the Beginning

Robert Mueller spent over $30 million and 674 days in vain ferreting out “collusion” not because it was necessarily difficult to prove such a charge either true or false. After all, the basis for the allegation, the veracity of the Steele dossier, could have been easily and quickly adjudicated.

Indeed, already by May 2017 and the beginning of Mueller’s investigation, the dossier was roundly denounced as fraudulent. FISA transcripts of surveilled conversations had already apprised officials that there was no direct evidence of collusion, which is why Peter Strzok, well before Mueller began, had privately warned his paramour and soon to be fellow Mueller team member, Lisa Page, that “there’s no big there there” to the collusion charge.

What explains the cost and length of the Mueller investigation? It’s not the (relatively easy) challenge of adjudicating collusion. It’s the politicized make-up of his team, which relentlessly and expansively drove on to tag any Trump aide with almost any crime imaginable.

Mueller could have saved the nation a great deal of national angst and division had he only insisted on a brief series of special requisites in his personnel selections: 1) None of his lawyers and investigators should have donated either to the Trump or Clinton campaign; 2) there should have been some numerical parity between Democratic and Republican members; 3) attorneys should not in the past have directly defended either the Trump or Clinton Foundation or any aides who had previously worked for Trump or Clinton; 4) they should not have transmitted on government devices any prior hyper-partisan praise or invective concerning either Trump or Clinton.

Yet Mueller could not fulfill even those minimal requirements. And the result was twofold: Mueller never escaped the charge that his team was biased; and, because it was stocked with progressives, in its zeal to get Trump, the investigation started out with the Soviet assumption that to convict the guilty criminal Trump, they needed only enough time and money to find the right crime.

Members including Page, Strozk, and Weissman had either in email or in texts on their government phones or computers earlier expressed hyper-partisan, anti-Trump views.

Another working for Mueller, Jeannie Rhee, a prosecutor on the team, had been employed as “outside counsel” at one point by the Clinton Foundation. Rhee also had represented Obama official Ben Rhodes in the Benghazi controversy; Rhodes, remember, after the election, was outspoken in his efforts to resist the Trump administration’s initiatives.

Another prominent Mueller team member, Aaron Zebley, had once defended Hillary Clinton’s staffer Justin Cooper. Cooper infamously had set up the private and illegal email server in the basement of the Clintons’ home.

Mueller attorneys such as former federal officials Andrew Weissmann and Zainab Ahmad had also both previously communicated with, and been briefed by, Bruce Ohr, who allegedly had warned them of the unverified nature of the Steele dossier.

Mueller team member Strzok had long been directly involved in Clinton-Trump investigations. He had previously interviewed Michael Flynn (Jan. 24, 2017) to learn about possible Trump-Russian collusion. Earlier, Strozk had interrogated Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills in connection with the Clinton email scandal; both had clearly lied to the FBI and both had been given de facto immunity. In short, Peter Strozk had no business posing as a disinterested investigator of Trump.

Another lead attorney on Robert Mueller’s team had also previously been assigned to the investigation of the Clinton emails. After the election, the unnamed Mueller team member, later revealed to be Kevin Clinesmith, had bragged in a text to an FBI attorney acquaintance of his opposition to Trump: “Viva le [sic] resistance.”

Other than Mueller himself, a registered Republican, there was no known member of the Republican party, or Republican donor, on his legal team.

The point is not that Mueller deliberately selected a biased team. It’s that he did not exercise proper caution in order to avoid even the appearance of bias in such a high-profile investigation. That is why liberal activists and the media were understandably giddy on hearing of the make-up of the team, and they gushed approbation of their newly adopted  “army,” “untouchables,” “all-stars,” and “dream team” — or what Max Boot praised as a “hunter-killer team of crack investigators and lawyers.”

It did not help appearances that the appointed Mueller was a longtime friend and associate of fired FBI director James Comey, who had bragged that he had sought to prompt a special-counsel investigation by deliberately leaking to the press confidential (if not in one case classified) memos of private conversations with the president.

Worse still, Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the Mueller investigation, signed off on a misleading FISA writ after the start of the Mueller investigation. Rosenstein also had provided the official rationale for firing James Comey, and he had been knee-deep in prior investigations involving both Trump and Clinton. Rosenstein allegedly had agreed to wear a wire, shortly before Mueller was appointed, to capture enough supposedly treasonous or unhinged Trump dialogue to invoke the 25th Amendment. Remember, in surreal fashion, Rosenstein stepped up to oversee Mueller’s work because, unlike Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he posed as someone who had no such conflicts of interest.

In the end, to justify the absence of any proof of collusion, Mueller’s progressive attorneys and investigators descended to dogging small-time wannabes and a few shady operators on charges that had nothing to do with Russian collusion — before they finally ended up ignominiously going after minor nobodies such the braggart and provocateur Roger Stone and Infowars’ Jerome Corsi.

Does anyone doubt that a comparable conservative team of lawyers including a few Trump donors, with $30 million of government money, a 90 percent favorable press, and 22 months’ time, while investigating Team Clinton and its hangers-on, couldn’t find scads of extraneous felonies, apart from its purported mission of investigating the collusionary Steele dossier?

 

Mueller, Progressive Hero?

The bias and the wasted resources and time of the stymied Mueller investigation will not matter to progressives. They saw Mueller and company as heroic, or at least useful, for all the righteous damage that the special prosecutor has already inflicted on the hated Trump administration.

For some 674 days, Donald Trump was under a cloud of a special investigator, prying into all aspects of his personal and private life, as well as the lives of his family and aides. Or to put it another way, for 83 percent of Trump’s first term, constant media announcements have blared about the “bombshell” to come as “the noose is tightening” and “the walls are closing in” — all as inaccurate as they were damaging to the efficacy of the administration.

The mainstream-network, MSNBC, and CNN prophesies of impeachment hearings driven by Russian “collusion” had, as planned, driven down Trump’s polls. Between 2017 and 2019, Mueller’s supposed prelude to impeachment caused defections among a once-solid Republican House and Senate and thereby stalled initiatives, thwarting efforts to curb illegal immigration, repeal Obamacare, quickly confirm judicial nominees and executive appointees, and preserve diplomatic leverage abroad.

Without the Mueller investigation and enablers such as Representative Adam Schiff (who had falsely insisted to the media that the dossier was not integral to a pre-election FISA application and had not launched the FBI investigation before the election), and without the MSBNC/CNN punditry, all the serial conspiratorial talk of invoking the 25th Amendment and the emoluments clause, as well as the comical McCabe-Rosenstein palace coup and the efforts of the “resistance” to thwart Trump’s administration from the inside, as outlined in the Sept. 5, 2018, anonymous New York Times op-ed, would probably have been written off immediately as short-lived psychodramas. Instead, they were all sensationalized by a 90-percent-biased media as the prefaces to the Mueller “bombshell” to come.

In the end, Mueller’s investigation really did prove to be a witch hunt, just as half the country came to conclude. It has probably forever ended the idea that a special prosecutor can be useful or fair. It has curtailed foreign-policy options and prevented the traditional American realist approach to Russia as a triangulating counterweight to China. It ruined the lives of innocents such as Carter Page and the reputations of dozens of others such as General Michael Flynn. It divided the country in its transparent violation of any sense of disinterested investigation and turned the idea of American jurisprudence into a version of the Soviets’ “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” And now that it is over, we should not forget what it wrought and those who empowered it.

Editor’s Note: This article originally misidentified FBI employee Sally Moyer as an acquaintance of Kevin Clinesmith who had sent disparaging texts about President Trump. The mistaken reference has been corrected.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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