Why Bernie Sanders won the debate
Forget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations
While politicians and pundits square off about collusion, obstruction of justice, criminal indictments and impeachment, unrefuted revelations in the Mueller Report are not getting the attention they deserve.
The evidence in the Report can - and should - help Republicans, Democrats, and Independents assess President Donald Trump and his administration. Five sets of stubborn facts should stimulate us to ask, and ask others to ask, whether the behavior described in the report is wrong. Does it represent politics as usual, or is it a new normal? What implications does it have for our democracy?
1) Further documenting the assessments of all of the intelligence agencies in the United States, the Mueller Report verifies that the "Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign in sweeping and systematic fashion." Russian entities carried out a social media campaign that favored Mr. Trump and disparaged Hillary Clinton. Russian intelligence operatives hacked Clinton campaign operations and officials and then released stolen documents. Mr. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and officials in the Trump campaign showed interest in and encouraged the release of documents damaging to Clinton by the Russians and/or WikiLeaks. Trump campaign officials had "a series of contacts" with "individuals with ties to the Russian government" during the campaign and the transition period.
2) The Mueller Report provides many examples of Mr. Trump's deceit and deception. Candidate Trump denied that anyone on his campaign had contacts with anyone from Russia, when he knew they had. He declared he had no business deals with Russia, "because I think that would be a conflict" - when he in fact did. President-elect Trump characterized stories that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election as "crazy" and "ridiculous." The intelligence community, he maintained, had "no idea" if Russia was responsible for the hacking: "It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place." President Trump directed his communications staff not to disclose information about the June 9, Trump Tower meeting; he dictated a misleading statement, issued under his son's name, that the meeting was about adoptions, and then denied he had done so. "I do not recall" and "I have no recollection" appear frequently in President Trump's written responses to the questions posed by Special Counsel Mueller.
3) The Mueller Report discloses examples as well of lies told by Trump associates and officials in the Administration. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI about discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Hope Hicks, the Trump Campaign spokesperson, declared, falsely, "There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign." Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney, submitted false statements to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow Project. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, falsely, "We've heard from countless members of the FBI" who "had lost confidence" in then-FBI Director Jim Comey.
4) The Mueller Report demonstrates that President Trump interfered with - and tried to undermine - the Special Counsel's investigation. The president demanded that Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdraw his recusal so that he could control or terminate the Russia probe and direct the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton. Sessions refused. Trump ordered Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to demand Sessions' resignation. Priebus didn't. In June 2017, President Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to have the Special Counsel fired because of purported conflicts of interest. McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. When the media broke the story, Trump tried to get McGahn to deny that Trump had issued such an order. McGahn refused. McGahn insisted "that his memory of the President's direction to remove the Special Counsel was accurate." Trump now calls it "fake news."
5) Finally, the Mueller Report sets forth the statutory and Office of Legal Counsel criteria the Special Counsel used in making decisions about criminal culpability. Albeit somewhat subjective, these criteria should serve as a starting point for evaluating claims about collusion, obstruction of justice, and "total exoneration."
If and when the Mueller Report is fully digested, we urgently need to begin more comprehensive discussions about the Trump Administration and the "new normal" in American politics. How much has - and how much should - partisan politics and loyalty to the president influence Congressional hearings, Justice Department ("lock her up") indictments, and assessments by intelligence agencies? What are the implications of our ideologically-driven mass media (and social media) as sources of information about, for example, a declaration of a national emergency on our southern border? Can politicians now "brazen out" scandals that would have forced their predecessors to resign?
Democracies, of course, cannot thrive, or even survive, without an informed, eternally vigilant citizenry, capable of distinguishing between facts and fake news. With a presidential election only 18 months from now, we've got our work cut out for us.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University, and the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.