Trump-Russia probe marks one-year anniversary: This is what it has accomplished

Trump-Russia probe marks one-year anniversary: This is what it has accomplished
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Has it only been one year? Somehow it feels like a lifetime.

Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE was selected to be special prosecutor by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinRosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Judge rules former WH counsel McGahn must testify under subpoena MORE on May 17, 2017. Mueller was expressly directed to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election but, in actuality, his appointment was a reflexive response to the firing of FBI director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHuckabee teases Hannity appearance, says he'll explain why Trump is eligible for third term Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe MORE.

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This was the correct move by a deputy AG who was thrust into the spotlight after Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry MORE recused himself of any Kremlin-related matters. And, to be fair, a wholly unorthodox president had just been elected to the office. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE remains unfamiliar with the constitutional guardrails that protect the Republic; in spoken word and tweet, he has done more than just flirt with the concept of authoritarian control.

 

But two things are not mutually exclusive: Robert Mueller is an honorable arbiter of the facts and can be trusted, as I argued here — but he should have been conflicted out of consideration for the position, as I argued here.

America deserves confidence in our political system. The exposure of multiple miscues and dubious decisions by senior leadership of the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) during the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' MORE email-server investigation and the Russian collusion probe have understandably eroded some of that trust.

Pew Research poll shows that 61 percent of Americans are confident Mueller will conduct a fair investigation. This, when almost all polling in 2018 mirrors a dramatically bifurcated nation.

Anecdotally speaking, it is difficult to fathom that, a year into the investigation, any finding has moved the needle in partisan camps. The political left still envisions Russians behind every potted plant at Trump Tower and wistfully dreams of a day when Trump is led away in handcuffs. The political right steadfastly maintains that the entire investigation is part of a “deep state” effort to overturn the results of a lawful election and a political witch-hunt.

As with most polarizing topics, there may be a bit truth to both.

Some aspiring “political scientists” on Twitter have argued that there were zero indictments or convictions resulting from the Whitewater probe, the House Select Committee on Benghazi investigation, and the Clinton email probe. And they are correct.

They also charge that, to date in the Mueller probe, we have seen four former Trump campaign associates — Michael Flynn, George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosFive takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill DOJ watchdog: Durham said 'preliminary' FBI Trump probe was justified Trump can't cry foul on FISA – unless he's suddenly a civil libertarian MORE, Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ backs ex-Trump campaign aide Richard Gates's probation request Former FBI general counsel wants apology from Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE and Richard Gates – charged with crimes that were not related to any misconduct by the president’s campaign.

Flynn and Papadopoulos pled guilty to making false statements to FBI agents, a violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001, a serious offense. But it is an ancillary “process crime” having nothing to do with an underlying scheme and only related to criminal conduct that occurs during an investigation.

Manafort and Gates were indicted on conspiracy charges related to tax evasion and bank fraud — but nothing related to Trump or the campaign. Shady business dealings are part of the new 32-count indictment brought by the Mueller team; this may be an effort to pressure Trump associates who had insider knowledge of the campaign — but it’s not an indication of collusion.

In April an attorney, Alex van der Zwaan, pled guilty to lying to investigators and was sentenced to 30 days in prison. Last February 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies were charged with meddling in the 2016 election. No U.S. citizens were included in that 37-page indictment; the only mention of Americans was in the context of “unwitting accomplice.” Ergo, any U.S. citizen who communicated with Russians posing as American political activists on social media platforms during the 2016 campaign had no knowledge they were communicating with Kremlin agents.

Richard Pinedo, a California man, pled guilty to selling bank accounts to Russian meddlers. He used stolen identities to open these accounts but was unaware of the intentions of his Russian clients.

Deputy AG Rosenstein, who announced the indictment, concluded that “[t]here is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election. Not exactly the “smoking gun” that the #Resistance prayed for.

Yes, the probe is ongoing; there may be some jaw-dropping “there” there, once Mueller closes the investigation. But it’s becoming less likely by the day.

What has become increasingly obvious over the course of the past year’s probe is this: It has had a deleterious effect on our nation, and it continues to divide us.

The president has used the opportunity to attack the free press. Crafty partisans on the political left have used the divide to conflate valid criticism of questionable senior FBI and DOJ leadership actions as — wait for it — partisan political attacks. Equally opportunistic intransigents on the political right have stoked fear and mistrust in all governmental institutions, damaging relationships with the public and further eroding trust. All are causing grievous harm to our country and shredding any real opportunities for unity.

The mainstream press has overreached in its efforts to sully a president who openly loathes their alignment with the political left and feels the investigation’s leaks are designed to cripple his presidency. And the president now charges on Twitter that the FBI planted a “representative” — undercover agent, informant, asset or cooperating witness — in his campaign. He may be drawing from a National Review column by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy who has suggested the same.

Yet, while the Russia probe’s pending results are hotly debated and widely anticipated, there may well be a far more consequential report’s release around the corner.

The DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is set to release publicly his findings following a review of the FBI’s decisions, processes and protocols in the Clinton case. Sources indicate the IG found “reasonable grounds” to believe violations of federal criminal law occurred in the FBI’s and DOJ’s handling of the Clinton case. This, ultimately, may result in a criminal referral and potential prosecution of some ubiquitous names in the Clinton investigation.

The IG may prove to be more adept at getting to the bottom of provable wrongdoing at the FBI and DOJ than Mueller’s team may be in discerning Trump’s culpability in collusion or obstruction of justice.

James A. Gagliano is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and a CNN law enforcement analyst. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.