The Russia investigation: The ‘fishing expedition’ turns one
It’s been one year since former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel for the Russia investigation, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post, or as President Trump calls it, “the greatest Witch Hunt in American History.” The information that has come to light thus far presents an “alarming picture” of Russian outreach to the floundering Trump campaign, with at least 75 contacts and 22 meetings between Trump’s team and individuals linked to Russia, and of repeated efforts by Trump to interfere with the investigation. Despite Trump’s “constant claims of ‘No Collusion and No Obstruction,’” Mueller has secured the indictments of 19 individuals and three companies as well as five guilty pleas. Meanwhile, the White House has gone from denying that the campaign had any communication whatsoever with Russia to admitting that discussions took place, but weren’t “meaningful.” Mueller’s investigation is no “fishing expedition,” said Natasha Bertrand in TheAtlantic.com. We know that top Trump campaign officials met with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, that campaign manager Paul Manafort received millions from Russian oligarchs, that son-in-law Jared Kushner proposed a secret back-channel line of communication between the Trump team and the Russian government, and that Trump tried to lift U.S. sanctions on Russia just days after taking office—just as Vladimir Putin wanted. Nearly every week, troubling new revelations emerge, and “there’s no sign” Mueller’s investigation “is winding down.”
So far, there’s also no evidence of collusion, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. Mueller’s team has snagged some big fish in indicting Manafort for bank fraud and former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI, but “no one has been charged with or pleaded guilty to any crime that involved collusion, or conspiracy, with Russia.” The public is tiring of Mueller’s open-ended probe, said Liz Peek in FoxNews.com. One recent poll showed that 54 percent of voters support continuing the investigation, down from 60 percent in March. “The year is up, special counsel Mueller. Time to show your cards, or call it a day.”
Many of my fellow conservatives are in denial, said David French in NationalReview.com. Trump’s defenders argue that there is no there there, but the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee just declared otherwise. Its members said there was “no reason to dispute” the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help President Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Some of what we know about the Trump campaign’s many meetings with Russians is “ominous,” including Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos being told in advance that the Russians had stolen thousands of Democratic emails that would hurt Clinton when released. It’s Mueller’s job to connect the dots, and the American public deserves to see “the full picture.”
At this point, the “collusion” question goes way beyond Russia, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer. It was recently revealed that Trump Jr. and top Trump aide Stephen Miller met with George Nader, a longtime emissary for the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates shortly after Trump sewed up the Republican presidential nomination. Nader said that the Saudis and UAE were eager to see Trump win the election and offered millions of dollars in covert assistance—which would be a crime. “Some key elements—exactly who was behind the plan, and what parts, if any, were carried out—remain murky.” But we do know that Trump has dramatically shifted American foreign policy to align with the wishes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, such as backing their blockade of U.S. ally Qatar. Did the Trump family sell “U.S. foreign policy to the highest bidder?” This, too, is part of the Mueller investigation. For Trump’s defenders to say Mueller has presented no public proof of collusion is absurd, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. The Republican former FBI head doesn’t leak, so “what Mueller has found can only be guessed at.” But from everything we’ve seen so far, he has plenty to work with.
Don’t expect the investigation to end soon, said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com. The Iran-Contra and Whitewater probes lasted nearly seven years, while congressional Republicans investigated the Benghazi attack for 28 months, coming up with nothing. By comparison, Mueller’s investigation has been extremely “fruitful and efficient.” The scale and importance of what he has to dig through is monumental, including the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with a hostile foreign power, Trump’s hidden financial ties to Russia, presidential obstruction of justice, and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s “Trump Tower–size pile of potential crimes.” So no, “the Mueller investigation hasn’t gone on too long.” ■