The wisdom of Trump's lawyers, and the accountability that must follow Mueller's report

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE did the job he was asked to do, seemingly unfazed by the mindless babble of speculating reporters or the panicked political arrows fired his way from all sides in Washington over nearly two breathless years.

On Friday, he completed that work and delivered a final report in the same understated style with which he accepted the job in May 2017. In between, he was as invisible and mythical as the Wizard of Oz, as he conducted a methodical investigation.

Let the record reflect these four instant takeaways:

  1. President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE was not indicted, nor did Mueller recommend an indictment against him for collusion or obstruction.
  1. There were no major disagreements between Mueller and his managers at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
  1. The Russians who tried to interfere in the 2016 election were exposed and charged — but no American was charged with any effort to conspire with Moscow and hijack the election.
  1. While nearly three dozen people were charged, including a few close to the president or who worked for his campaign, no one in proximity to the president was formally charged with colluding with Russia. Most, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn or campaign adviser George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios Papadopoulos10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Flynn, Papadopoulos to speak at event preparing 'social media warriors' for 'digital civil war' Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, Russia over election interference MORE, were charged with process crimes or felonies unrelated to the main case, as in Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortEx-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates testifies against former Obama counsel Gregory Craig Trial of ex-Obama White House counsel suddenly postponed Top Mueller probe prosecutor to join Georgetown Law as lecturer MORE’s secretive, multimillion-dollar foreign lobbying spree through Ukraine.
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There still are other legal threats out there for Trump and his team, such as cases winding through the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. And there will be days and weeks of debate about what’s in, and not in, the Mueller report.

What likely won’t get much debate, but unquestionably played an essential role in the history of the case and the outcome of the report, was the firm decision by Trump attorneys Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowTrump, RNC sue to block California law requiring release of tax returns Voters sue California over tax return law targeting Trump Team Trump blasts California bill requiring candidates release tax returns to appear on ballot MORE and Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official Trump doubles down on Jewish controversy Trump retweets baby elephant video MORE to not let their client testify.

That’s not to say the president didn’t cooperate. His organization, campaign, inaugural committee and White House produced millions of pages of documents, and he submitted written answers to prosecutors about his conduct prior to Election Day. Nearly all key events were illuminated by this cooperation.

Such disclosure likely was enough to satisfy Mueller, since we know the prosecutor in the end didn’t force the president to testify by subpoena.

But the Trump legal team’s decision to steadfastly restrain their client from testifying — a client whose natural tendency is to fight when accused, tweet when challenged, and debate his detractors — almost certainly kept him from the sort of perjury traps that felled other figures in the case, such as Flynn and Papadopoulos, or that two decades earlier beguiled Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonNew data challenges Trump's economic narrative The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers Prince Andrew says he didn't 'witness or suspect' criminal behavior from Epstein MORE as president. (Remember the Paula Jones deposition perjury?)

The public wants and deserves more transparency going forward. But while jeopardy lurked with an open criminal case, the president’s lawyers took a wise course that was in his personal legal interest. And that is what lawyers are supposed to do.

Now, Mueller’s investigations leave one major mission unfinished: meting out justice to the intelligence, congressional, FBI and DOJ officials who appear to have used a political dirty trick to falsely weave an unproven narrative of Russia collusion.

Unverified political opposition research never should be treated as actionable intelligence or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) evidence, as it was in this case.

Just hours before Mueller’s report arrived, new evidence emerged of just how egregious the FBI acted in the early days of the Russia probe.

Fox News’s brilliant reporter Catherine Herridge obtained new text messages Friday showing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Conservatives lash out at CNN for hiring Andrew McCabe The road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces MORE and his chief lawyer, Lisa Page, were discussing credibility issues and “bias” about a key human source whose work was to support the FISA warrant used to first spy on the Trump campaign in October 2016.

Those credibility issues likely were hidden from the judges who approved the warrant of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page). As I have reported, the FBI also possesses emails showing concerns with the evidence it was going to use to support the FISA warrant.

Likewise the bureau didn’t disclose to the court that:

Such omissions are so glaring as to constitute defrauding a federal court. And each and every participant to those omissions needs to be brought to justice.

An upcoming DOJ inspector general’s report should trigger the beginning of that accountability in a court of law, and President Trump can assist the effort by declassifying all evidence of wrongdoing by FBI, CIA and DOJ officials. 

Accountability also must be handed out in the court of public opinion, where senior members of Congress, such as Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong MORE (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Facebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Va.), and former members of the intelligence community, such as John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats MORE and James ClapperJames Robert ClapperTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Conservatives lash out at CNN for hiring Andrew McCabe Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE, along with several major news organizations, spun tall stories of a Watergate-sized criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS and Russia arms race would be detrimental to strategic stability Five things to watch as Trump heads to G-7 summit Biden blasts Trump's 'embarrassing' actions heading into G-7 summit MORE.

Mueller’s anticlimactic finish to the special counsel’s probe on Friday made clear no such Trump-Putin criminal conspiracy existed. If it did, it would have been charged.

Trump can help the American public reconcile these issues, too, by declassifying all briefings to Congress’s “Gang of Eight” leadership, so that the public can see what our leaders were being told behind closed doors and what they were claiming on the public airwaves.

This accountability is essential to ensuring the nation never endures another travesty like the Russia collusion narrative.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill.