Robert Mueller was appointed one year ago last Thursday as a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Russian government coordinated its activities with associates of candidate Donald Trump.
Over the past year Mueller has managed to spend $10 million in taxpayer funds, taken up enormous amounts of time of people being questioned, forced many to run up big legal bills, and had a disruptive effect on the functioning of the White House. His probe has dominated the news, squeezing out coverage of many of the Trump administration’s accomplishments.
And in a new development Wednesday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani—now working as an attorney representing Trump—told Fox News that Mueller told the Trump legal team he will not seek an indictment against the president, based on a 1999 Justice Department memo that concluded federal prosecutors can’t indict a sitting president.
That means the only way Mueller could act against Trump would be to provide evidence that would be welcomed by Democrats in Congress eager to impeach the president.
So is the Mueller probe really a taxpayer-funded effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election and oust the duly elected president from office?
How long this seemingly endless probe will continue is anybody’s guess.
Mueller may have evidence that will result in actual indictments that have something to do with his original task and that justify his continued spending of taxpayer funds.
But after a year, we still have not seen him produce anything publicly that supports the claim he was originally assigned to investigate—whether there was any collusion of any kind in the 2016 election between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In addition to the issue of Trump-Russia collusion, Mueller was also authorized to look at additional issues uncovered in his investigation. That allows him to cast a very wide net in a fishing expedition looking for wrongdoing.
The special counsel’s probe has expanded to also examine whether the president and his associates sought to obstruct justice by impeding the investigation; whether Trump associates engaged in illegal financial dealings; and whether there were improper contacts between Trump officials and Russians during the presidential transition period.
Trump has said many times that “there was no collusion.” The president has also said that “there was no obstruction” and called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.”
The House intelligence committee recently released its report on the investigation that it conducted of Russian election interference, concluding that that there “was no evidence” that the Trump campaign “colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia.” Democrats dissented from that conclusion by the Republican majority on the committee.
A report by the Senate intelligence committee released Wednesday agreed with the intelligence community’s finding that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping Trump be elected president. But the committee said it will issue another report in the future examining allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The report out Wednesday did not address this issue.
We do know that there was no actual interference with the voting and balloting process that could have changed the outcome of the election. Jeh Johnson, who headed the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama, told us right after the election that Russians didn’t do any of that.
Since Mueller’s appointment, 19 people have been charged with illegal actions, including four Trump campaign aides and three Russian companies. But many of these alleged crimes have nothing to do with the election or with Trump.
For example, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was indicted on charges involving alleged money laundering, tax fraud, and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. However, the charges are related to his representation of the Ukrainian government years before Trump even thought about running for president. Linking Trump to these charges is absurd.
Mueller’s indictment of former national security adviser Michael Flynn also had nothing to do with the election. Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government during the presidential transition.
Many are questioning the legitimacy of the FBI’s questioning Flynn, since the questioning was apparently based on a potential violation of the Logan Act, which makes it a crime for unauthorized people to negotiate on behalf of the United States with foreign governments. No one has been successfully prosecuted under the Logan Act since it was passed in 1799. Many scholars believe it is unconstitutional.
Mueller also has indicted 13 Russians for using social media platforms to stir up trouble in the U.S. over racial and social issues. But those Russians used social media to push people toward rallies and actions that in some cases supported Trump, in some cases supported Hillary Clinton, and in some cases opposed one of the presidential candidates.
It is obvious from reading this indictment that the Russians are accused of using fake and stolen identities to ensure no one knew they were Russians and that they were trying to sow dissension and social unrest rather than help a particular candidate. In any event, no collusion is even alleged in the indictment.
The yearlong special counsel investigation seems to have raised more questions about the possible misbehavior by Mueller’s investigators and other government officials than by the Trump campaign. This includes serious questions about:
- The basis for starting an FBI counterintelligence investigation and surveillance of the Trump presidential campaign, apparently based on unverified opposition political research.
- The possible bias of FBI and Department of Justice officials involved in the investigation against Trump.
- The legitimacy of the far-flung expansion of Mueller’s investigation into things that seemingly have nothing to do with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, such as hush money paid to a porn star who alleges she had a one-night affair with Trump a decade before the election. The president denies the claim.
Like a soap opera that goes on and on and an on, the Mueller probe continues, expanding into new story lines and growing ever more complex. How far back in time and how wide-ranging this investigation will become is a mystery.
But whether you are a Trump supporter or opponent, do you really want this investigation to continue for months or even another year? Is the cost and the disruption of the functioning of the White House worth it? Shouldn’t Trump and his team be allowed to focus on dealing with the challenges our nation faces at home and abroad?
If you think Trump is doing a bad job, vote against him if he’s on the ballot in 2020. Criticize his conduct and his policies between now and then. But like it or not, he was elected president of the United States.
Mueller needs to wrap up his investigation, report to Congress, and then let lawmakers either act against the president or allow him to finish his term, focused on making America great again.
Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative.