Beyond the media hubbub and presidential gloating over the results of the Mueller report is the alarming, but almost overlooked, reality that Donald Trump is the U.S. president preferred and aggressively supported by Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCourt finds Russia was behind 2006 poisoning of ex-spy in London Google employees criticize removal of Navalny app Third Russian charged in 2018 nerve agent attack on ex-spy in England MORE’s Russian regime, a foreign power hostile to security of the United States. Russian support for Trump and the projections that the Kremlin is gearing up for the 2020 election are issues every American should consider as the nation moves beyond the Mueller report.
Since special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s investigation exposed likely obstruction of justice and coverups but no crime by President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE and his advisers in their shady cooperation with the Russians, Trump for now has no legal price to pay for Russia’s campaign support. Legal consequences aside, Trump certainly has a huge political liability in the upcoming elections as the “Russian candidate” for president. If the Democrats and the few remaining anti-Trump voices in the Republican Party do not put Putin’s patronage of Trump at the top of their 2020 agenda, they will miss a powerful political opportunity.
For now, Russia and the U.S. President have gotten away with aggressive Russian attacks on American democracy in 2016 based on Mueller’s very narrow legal investigation. Despite a two-year effort, Mueller failed to discover any criminal conspiracy by Trump or his campaign in their cooperation with Russia despite an aggressive effort by Russian intelligence to infiltrate and influence American policy at the highest levels.
For anyone experienced in Russia’s programs to undermine U.S. influence and interests around the globe, that is a remarkable outcome, given Russia’s obvious efforts to infiltrate the administration at the highest levels and the U.S. president’s inclination to play fast and loose with rules.
It is also hard to imagine how the Trump-Russia relationship is innocent, given the lying and attempts to cover Russian contacts and relationships by Trump’s senior advisers.
Trump has been a dream come true for the Kremlin. Putin was aggressive in support of Trump because Trump offered an opportunity to promote the Kremlin’s anti-U.S., anti-Western interests. Trump has delivered by trashing the unity between the U.S. and its traditional democratic allies in Europe, weakening American international influence globally, and undermining the NATO alliance that has been at the core of U.S. security since we founded the alliance 70 years ago. Putin must also be delighted with the extreme polarization of domestic U.S. politics today and the compliant Republican Party that Trump has converted into a cult of personality.
Meanwhile, Moscow continued to oppose U.S. interests globally, promoted extreme nationalism and undermined democracy in Europe, expanded its influence in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere, and announced the development of a destabilizing new nuclear-tipped cruise missile.
Mueller took a strict legal approach within a confined scope in his investigation. His redacted report did not address compromising financial or other relationships between Trump and the Russians. As a result, Mueller’s inquiry also failed to adhere to the imperative of the Watergate investigation to follow the money.
By avoiding the financial issue, Mueller did not address one of the most important national security questions in American history: Was a U.S. president, specifically Donald Trump, as a candidate and as president, compromised personally or financially by Russia? Without that question being answered, the investigation into the Russian interference in U.S. democracy is incomplete.
Congressional investigations must now focus on the gaps in the Mueller report, specifically the financial relationships between the president and the Russians over the past several years. Before Congress launches an impeachment procedure, it should aggressively investigate in public hearings Trump’s potential financial or personal ties to Russia as an urgent matter of national security.
As the champagne flows in the Kremlin and at Mar-a-Lago over Trump’s legal victory in the Mueller report, the celebration of their triumph may be premature. The investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia cannot be final until Congress finishes a thorough inquiry into Trump’s financial relationship to Russia. In the meantime, President Trump cannot escape the reality that he is the preferred president of the Putin regime in Russia, the most aggressive international opponent of U.S. interests and the most dangerous national security threat to the United States today.
James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO and is the author of "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."