Bad faith on Trump-Russia, then and now

Bad faith on Trump-Russia, then and now
© Getty

The entire treason narrative against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE and his campaign circle for supposedly conspiring with Russia to defeat Hilary Clinton was a sham. It was so at the beginning and remains so at the end, with the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

The point of an investigation, ultimately, is justice. That sometimes means bringing charges to hold someone to account for criminal wrongdoing. And sometimes, justice is closing an investigation without charge because the evidence simply doesn’t support indictment. But when an investigation is predicated on a fraud, and is used by political enemies and the media to handcuff the president of the United States for more than two years, it is hard to argue that true justice has been achieved.  

ADVERTISEMENT

With the release of the Mueller report, we have a far clearer picture of Russia’s 2016 campaign to interfere with the U.S. election. We also know that those around Trump rebuffed Russia’s outreach to them repeatedly. The 448-page report recounts many facts and details about this outreach, and the responses to it, and concludes these facts would not support criminal charges against any American.

What it did not recount, however, was why, at the beginning of the investigation (and in the closing hours of the presidential election), the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted an opposition political document to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court as the basis for a warrant to surveil the Trump campaign; this “dossier,” compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, contained unverified allegations from unknown Russian sources.

The special counsel surely must have been aware of this warrant. The surveillance authorized by it lasted more than a year, part of which was during Mueller’s tenure. As the man charged with investigating possible campaign criminality, one of his first acts would have been to review whatever material might have been gleaned from that surveillance.  

As a former U.S. attorney and director of the FBI, Mueller also would have known to review any existing evidence of potential criminality — chiefly, at that point, the Steele dossier. A trained prosecutor, he would have known to get answers about that dossier. After all, if its allegations were true, the president of the United States was a vulnerable target for Russian blackmail.  Mueller surely understood that Trump already had received months of top-secret briefings that included highly classified information important to a foreign adversary such as Russia. No man with Mueller’s background would sit by and let that vulnerability go unchecked for nearly two more years — not if he truly believed the president was vulnerable.

This was an urgent matter of national security, but his report barely touches upon the Steele dossier and is deafening in its silence upon the veracity of the allegations within it. His charge was broad, his mandate wide-ranging, to investigate criminality related to Russia and the campaign. The document containing salacious Russian allegations about the president was repeatedly sworn to in front of the nation’s secret court. If those oaths were false, Mueller had an obligation to discover it. He did not hesitate to charge multiple people with lying to investigators.  What about lying to the FISA court?

ADVERTISEMENT

Why was Mueller not curious about this potential case of serious public corruption by FBI and DOJ officials? Did his nascent investigation begin with this review?  If so, why isn’t that review contained within those 448 pages? Surely we have a right to know if a major basis for accusing the president of being a Russian asset was a fraud. Apparently, Mueller does not believe we have that right or, at a minimum, he completely abdicated his mandate to uncover the glaring potential criminality inside the government he was charged with investigating.

If we can’t say even now — after two years and millions of dollars spent, with paroxysms of hate on cable TV shows every night — that the beginning of the investigation was brought in good faith, was it at least ended in good faith? The report clearly states there is no evidence to support a conspiracy between any American and the Russians to interfere with the presidential election. As Attorney General William Barr noted, this conclusion should bring relief and satisfaction to all Americans.  

The specter of the American president as a Russian asset was frightening, to say the least, although anyone with good sense and a modicum of neutrality knew that allegation was an outrageous lie. But those who opined the president was a traitor, night after night, those who gleefully anticipated Mueller’s fighting to charge the president with an election conspiracy, are not expressing relief that they were wrong.  

Many of them have doubled down on their claims and have found phantom support for continuing this absurd narrative in the pages of Mueller’s report — like the Manson family who heard calls (that were not there) for murder and mayhem in the Beatle’s song “Helter Skelter.”  These Trump opponents seem not to care about the glaring public corruption at the heart of the FISA warrants obtained to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. They seem unconcerned with why the Mueller report contains no information about whether those profoundly disturbing allegations and their implications were true or were used to form the basis for an entirely bad-faith investigation.  

They seem to care only about continuing to accuse the president of crimes. What seems to have begun in bad faith continues the same way.  

Francey Hakes was a prosecutor for 16 years and now consults on national security and the protection of children. As a former assistant U.S. attorney, she appeared before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, presenting applications for counterterrorism and counterespionage warrants on a special detail to the Department of Justice Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Follow her on Twitter @FranceyHakes.