And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin

And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin
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It seems remarkably fitting that a now-disproven Russian collusion scandal started with a blatantly political memo known as the Steele dossier and ended with another called the Mueller report.

I’ve covered the Department of Justice (DOJ) for three decades, a period that involved some of Washington’s biggest scandals (Iran-Contra, Whitewater, impeachment), prosecutors’ biggest triumphs (the Unabomber case) and the FBI’s biggest missteps (the lab scandal and pre-Sept.11 intelligence failures).

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I’ve seen and read prosecutorial declination memos before, and few resemble the one that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction MORE’s team presented to the DOJ and released by Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGraham says he will call Papadopoulos to testify Pelosi, Democrats launch Mueller messaging blitz The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike MORE.  

Most are written simply to explain why prosecutors choose not to charge a high-profile suspect whose name was besmirched publicly. Almost all are written in the spirit of the central tenet of American jurisprudence: One is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Mueller’s report is not written from that presumption. In fact, it is written more from the perspective that President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE may be guilty until proven otherwise. Here’s why.

Both volumes of the report — Russia collusion and obstruction — start as a narrative that goes like this: If we were going to indict Trump, here’s our best evidence.

Volume I then ends like a “straw man.” After listing every titillating piece of evidence, Mueller concludes his evidence did not establish a conspiracy between Trump and Russia to hijack the 2016 election. In fact, it unequivocally stated no American conspired with Russia.

Volume II takes the same path on obstruction issues — but Mueller then punts with this remarkable have-it-both-ways conclusion: “This report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

In short, Mueller’s report lay out all the dirty laundry and then passes on criminal charges.

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His 397 pages of prose and 50-plus pages of attachments stand in stark contrast to DOJ rules mandating that a prosecutor not use grand jury and other evidence to besmirch a suspect who was never charged.

“The prosecutor must recognize that the grand jury is an independent body, whose functions include not only the investigation of crime and the initiation of criminal prosecution but also the protection of the citizenry from unfounded criminal charges,” the DOJ rules state.

Mueller’s report irrefutably exceeds these requirements. As such, it is no longer a legal document. Rather, it is a political document, filled with gratuitous, tawdry details designed to besmirch the president and his aides in the court of public opinion instead of the court of law.

Two exhibits:

The most blatant of all political pitches comes after Mueller passed on his responsibility to make a final decision on an obstruction charge. He then overtly invited Congress to take a crack.

“Congress can validly regulate the President’s exercise of official duties to prohibit actions motivated by a corrupt intent to obstruct justice,” he wrote.

Nothing in the special prosecutor regulations under which Mueller was appointed invites him to suggest what Congress could do. I’m pretty sure lawmakers already know their powers under the Constitution.

The above are overtly political passages, gratuitous in nature and unnecessary to the declination requirements of the report he was asked to give to Barr.

Mueller isn’t the first prosecutor to pursue a president and lay out evidence for a political narrative, without criminal charges.

Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh used the tale of a secret diary kept by President George H.W. Bush to impugn the 41st president without charges. And Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr made a public case against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton5 things to know about Boris Johnson Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike MORE on obstruction over her missing Rose Law Firm records, without ever charging her.

Walsh and Starr, however, were appointed under the now defunct independent counsel statute that required an accounting of the evidence to the public and Congress.

Mueller was not appointed under that law. As a special counsel, he essentially must follow the same rules as all U.S. attorneys, which include the mandate that you can’t use evidence to smear those you don’t indict.

In the end, everyday Americans likely won’t hold this against Mueller. We hold our presidents to a higher standard and expect transparency even when criminality may not be involved.

But make no mistake: Mueller’s report was written for political effect, and not just for legal requirements.

So the end of the Russia collusion case begins where it started — with a blatant political document.

The first one, the dossier written by the Brit Christopher Steele and underwritten by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) through a firm called Fusion GPS, was aided by a former Russian intelligence officer residing in the United States, according to DOJ’s notes. And it gave the FBI the primary justification it needed to spy on the Trump campaign.

Rest assured, there are no such things as former intelligence officers when it comes to Russia. And when they’re on U.S. soil, American intelligence knows who they are.

Likewise, Mueller’s most salacious anecdote tying Russia to Trump’s family — the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 — was set up by a Russian lawyer who got into the U.S. on a special “parole visa” issued by the Justice Department. She was known to the U.S. government for her ties to Russia. And, remarkably, she had a business relationship with the same Fusion GPS that hired Steele and was paid by Clinton and the DNC.

If Russian intelligence was secretly trying to influence the election, a “former” Russian spy and a “declared” Russian lawyer would be the last two people used. Their profiles were hot and their ties too overt. Instead, the Russians would have used the cloak-and-dagger tactics that hid disgraced FBI agent Robert Hanssen’s spying for two decades.

In fact, some intelligence pros I’ve talked with previously wonder aloud whether the Russian activity with Steele and the Trump Tower meeting were what is known in spy tradecraft as “discoverable influence operations.”

In layman’s terms, they were setups — with some accurate elements and lots of false information — designed to be discovered by U.S. intelligence, with the goal of sowing doubts or “kompromat” in the American democracy. 

“To me, the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 pointed to a discoverable influence operation rather than some effort to establish a clandestine channel for collusion,” says Daniel Hoffman, the CIA’s former Moscow station chief and one of America’s top experts on Russia spying. “Putin deliberately left a trail of breadcrumbs from Trump Tower to the Kremlin. Putin’s objective was simple, to soil the U.S. political process.”

If Hoffman is correct, the real winner of the Steele dossier and the Mueller report is none other than that cagey old KGB spy, Vladimir Putin.

He found a way, through hacking Clinton’s emails and seeding information for Steele and the Trump Tower meeting, to cast doubt on both candidates in 2016.

And now, in the prose of the Mueller report, he has a fresh vehicle to continue sowing discord and distrust in America and its duly elected president for months to come.

I can almost hear the boisterous laughter emanating from the Kremlin.

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.